Photography: Max Reilly
Ocean Alley is likely a name that you know thanks to Triple J's Hottest 100 of January, 2019, where their track, 'Confidence' landed the number one spot. Believe it or not, they were turning heads long before that, too - they formed in 2011, and have released two EP's and two LP's since, as well as doing an international tour. They've ticked off an impressive number of festivals around the world including Reading & Leeds Festival in the UK, BottleRock in the US and Splendour In The Grass here in Australia.
Their latest record, 'Lonely Diamond', is a well-rounded album that takes itself more seriously than the band's previous LP's, 'Chairoscuro' and 'Lost Tropics'. It's confirmation of Ocean Alley's place in the intriguing genre of psychedelic surf rock that's popping up in the Australian music scene, but for the most part, 'Lonely Diamond' is not what I'd call innovative. It doesn't take any huge leaps from their previous music and suffers a little from overindulgence in the reverb on guitar and vocals that's characteristic of the aforementioned genre. That said, there's some serious (lonely) diamonds in the rough that show what Ocean Alley can do when they experiment.
The album opener, 'Dahlia', is an impressive peek at what the band is capable of instrumentally. It's the subdued bass of a noir movie soundtrack with hints of funky synth thrown in. As an opener, this track sets a tone which almost fits the rest of the album, but not quite - the melancholy matches, but 'Dahlia' sounds like an exciting attempt at a theme that the remaining majority of the album doesn't quite agree with.
Track number 6, 'All Worn Out', was another standout - right off the bat, the piano and violin of the intro informs the listener that this is going to be an intermission, and a well-timed one. The surfer-rock of tracks 2-5 isn't unlikeable by any means, but hitting the audience with a slower, more emotional curveball in the middle of the record is an intriguing testament to the versatility of the band. The guitar and drums are more reserved to make room for the piano, which is accompanied by the enchanting harmonized vocals. Guitarist Mitch Galbraith comments that this track "was a real lesson in songwriting for us because from inception to finished product it changed so much in the detail, yet it always had that feel… sombre, slow, reflective."
When the band first announced 'Lonely Diamond' in late April, they released 'Hot Chicken' alongside the announcement, and it was a very good choice. 'Hot Chicken' is a sort of summary of the album, with lyrics that address some sobering themes and very catchy guitarwork. The vocals have an interesting rhythm, too, which I'd consider a successful example of Ocean Alley's willingness to try new things.