Over The Ocean - Be Given to the Soil
Record Label: Spartan Records
Release Date: April 30, 2013
So many thoughts run through my mind as I'm writing this review. It's the first one I've written in a couple of years, and quite honestly I always knew that an album like this is what it would have taken for me to get back into writing about music again. I rarely speak about it, but I've been dealing with a lot of physical and emotional problems during the retirement I took from writing, which is part of the reason why I lost my interest. I'm happy to say that this record has been crucially instrumental in helping me deal with those problems. Just one good listen makes how it could do that obvious, but it's my duty to put it on paper as best I can. While I'll never be able to reconstruct the emotions present with simple words, I'll definitely give it my best shot. Here goes.
Let's start with what we've already heard, and what continues to remain consistent with the music from the last album. Over The Ocean's debut, Paper House, was a fairly straightforward post-rock album. The instruments rang pretty closely to the tune of something one would expect Explosions in the Sky or If These Trees Could Talk would produce. It wasn't particularly groundbreaking. But the style, as it always has for bands of this nature, served as a decent catalyst for the powerful emotion in vocalist Jesse Hill's somber words. To my great pleasure, Over The Ocean has taken what worked already and made a huge improvement on it rather than trying to overcompensate instrumentally to fix what wasn't broken to begin with. About the only thing about this album hasn't adjusted since the first album are the vocals, and rightly so. They remain the solemn centerpiece to a table of musical nourishment that while adequate before, has become exceptional now.
Because the lyrical and vocal themes are so similar to the previous record, I think it would be best to lightly pass over them, and refer to my previous review of the debut record for a good general description. Instead, I would like to cover them via the amazing new relationship they have to the instruments. This is one of the greatest and most emotionally effective improvements from debut to sophomore to pass over my ears. To contrast, the first album was a little too strummy and came off as a bit imposing, separating themselves from the equally wonderful vocals in a wave of energy and excitement. While this model does indeed work and each aspect of the album is well appreciated in their separate themes, as previously mentioned, there are yet better models with a more graceful presentation via teamwork.
The most vital observation about the instrumentation of the album to this end is that Over the Ocean have made a sharp turn from formulaic post-rock into the world of ambient, noise, drone, and industrial, while still keeping their roots and remaining fairly accessible. These genres leave a lot more room for the development of a specific atmosphere in any given artistic endeavor. The tones, static, and frantic strings and percussion throughout the album give an impression of surrealism, and internally expressed chaos. I tend to liken it to the experience I had while watching a playthrough of the adventure game Yume Nikki, the soundtrack of which is quite similar. The surrealism of the more gentle tones in Be Given to the Soil is beautiful and captivating, but all the while it is surrounded by a dark and sinister atmosphere and is interrupted by the turmoil of the more noisy parts, which can be pretty disturbing because of their dissonance.
And then we add in the vocals to this beautiful, yet somewhat uncomfortable background. The way I interpret the album is that because of the surrealism they take place inside of a dream, but not just any dream. No, this dream is a nightmare. This album represents, to me, the pleas of a man who is teetering on the brink of spiritual and emotional death, and his dreams are freakish, grotesque representations of the wrongs he has committed and can't find a way to right them, resulting in supreme terror and despair. The emotional quality to Be Given to the Soil is not unlike Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, but instead offers a message of hope instead of total destruction at its end.
To any religious person struggling with life's adversities, this album can give you renewed hope in its expression of humility, and confession. It certainly did for me. It's been years since an album has affected me this way, and any album that can pull a person back into music so abruptly deserves some consideration even without the religious aspect. For those of you who share the tastes I have, or are maybe looking for something a little darker or more ambient than what you normally listen to, give Be Given to the Soil a shot. You won't be disappointed.