Our Oceans: Our Oceans

Former Cynic and Exivious members set sail once more.

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Our Oceans is the very essence of a worthwhile side project, in that it sounds remarkably unlike any of the other groups of the musicians that spawned it.

Vocalist and guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, guitarist Michel Nienhuis and bassist Robin Zielhorst have collectively kicked up plenty of prog/fusion sound and fury in Exivious; Nienhuis and drummer Jasper Barendregt even more so with super-intense metal band Dodecahedron.

But this is as far away from convoluted instrumentals and blast beats as it’s possible to get. It draws on the melodic interludes of Kruidenier’s former band Cynic and strips away all excess, leaving the instruments hanging in space, with gently swinging drum rhythms, shimmering reverby guitar picking and some aching vocal melodies.

A beautifully judged album, stripped of all excess.

The drumming is more freewheeling on Tangled, although still subdued tempo-wise. Kruidenier’s vocal lines and melodies might have you reaching for nebulous comparisons with some 80s bands, but maybe that’s a reaction provoked by Zielhorst’s poised, purring fretless bass. What the music might lack in dynamics it makes up for in slow-burning intensity, with Kruidenier’s voice peaking at an anguished yell before dropping to let the lead guitar take on the melody.

Precarious runs through moody chord sequences and, typical of the album, some weighty guitars are almost completely submerged but give the feeling of something lurking ominously. On Lioness’ Sunrise the mood is stretched out and languorous with piano interludes as Kruidenier sings about ‘The ocean below reflecting rain and snow’ – as the song envelops the listener in a dreamy totality.

More than halfway through the album the songs, though wonderfully atmospheric, have all had a steady ebb and flow, and the vocal cadences, though seductive, are already sounding rather familiar. It may be pretentious to compare the effect to ocean waves, but that’s how it feels.

But then on Turquoise, it starts to unravel a bit, becoming more urgent, and as the song drops down to a spacious revolving four-chord pattern, Barendregt plays a wonderful minute or so of perpetual motion around his kit. Let Me rides out on a 44 tempo and is full of restrained power that just starts to break through, with drum roll flurries and a lead guitar solo, but all in service of the song. Reawaken closes the album, a more linear tune that reaches an anthemic peak before slowly fading out.

Overall the structure of Our Oceans feels beautifully judged, with it just beginning to change in mood toward the end. Which, of course, leaves it all nicely poised for the next one.

Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.