I think we can all admit that there are some albums which speak to us more than others. Last year there were two such, which became favourite releases of 2019, not just because they were amazing works of art (which they both are, in my opinion), but because of how they made me feel. Charlie Cawood’s Blurring Into Motion and Oceanica’s OneDark are both releases which were works of catharsis for their creators. That catharsis is palpable, and I found both albums incredibly efficacious in helping me through some times of mental struggle I had last year. As such, this might not be the most well thought out review, as the music speaks to my heart, not my head, and that’s where the words of this review are likely to come from, too. This is how the music makes me feel, rather than how it makes me think.
The album begins with the instrumental Youth. And what could be more youthful than the pleasingly childlike tones of a music box being wound and played? Though this effect has been used many times before by many artists, it never fails to delight me. This is the perfect opening to the wonderful experience of OneDark. The naive charms of a musical box leading into track after track of what feels to me like a wilfully naive celebration of life. If not the intention of Ben Harris-Hayes then certainly my interpretation – of both this album and of life. I have for many years now declared myself to be wilfully naive: to see life as a glass half full, to not sweat the small stuff, to seize the day, to celebrate every day that I’m still alive. A bunch of cliché platitudes, maybe, but they make life easier to live, and far more worth living for me.
Overcome is almost an overture, for while it may not have the musical motifs foreshadowing what is to come, it without doubt signals the way OneDark celebrates light over dark. A triumphant shout that we can overcome. When I first heard this track, and the remainder of the album, I was somewhat overcome myself. Although bits and pieces from OneDark were made available prior to the album’s release, I deliberately chose not to listen to anything until the CD dropped through my letterbox. Knowing only the cover art and the title of the album, I was completely blown away by the music when I heard it, for this is an album of hope, light, love and peace.
The music of OneDark is not dark. It is triumphant, jubilant, ebullient, or any such other adjective you favour. This is not the sound of One in the Dark, but rather One coming out from the Dark. I found the music to be immediate, and infectious in its joy. There are several songs which amazingly quickly became earworms – with three, in particular, I found myself humming or singing to myself in my head, throughout the day and for days after I first listened to the album. Even now, months later, they will enter my consciousness and refuse to leave. And I’m fine with that.
Oceanica is Ben Harris-Hayes, who is probably most well known for his days in Enochian Theory. There are few tracks as heavy as the music of Enochian Theory on OneDark, but All the Cool Kidz is one such from the heavier spectrum. But ultimately, no matter whether the tracks are light and airy or on the heavier side (such as this one – which even has hints of harsh vocals), they all have an air of hope. For someone who has struggled with mental health for much of my life, every one of these songs has a “coming out of the dark” feeling, which makes me feel good about myself. And I damn well hope they make Ben feel good about himself because the songs are good. Very good!
The next track, Amounting To Nothing, is the latest to have received a video treatment. Ben aims to have a video for every song on the album, and while those for The Oblivion Tree and Oubliette might be “better” videos, I actually really like the video for Nothing. For me, it’s a very clear and joyful portrayal of the obviously key lyrics of the song:
worries, they amount to…
…and just be…”
Start From the Start is the first of a wonderful triptych of songs, which apparently were not intended to be taken in that way – but which I know I am not the only one to have recognised as being a strong suite. The one, two, three punch of Start From the Start, Oubliette and Got A Feeling are three of my favourite songs on this album, each one stronger and better than the last, and each showcasing different aspects of Ben’s musicality. Ben has made music under many different names, and from many different genres. Although OneDark is largely uniform, there are traces of electronic and ambient, as well as pop, rock and metal. It all conspires to make one glorious whole.
That said, the following track seems to be a bit of a Marmite one for many. Although there’s not a single track I dislike, I can see how Towards the Sun was a little harder to digest. It’s not that the song is bad, more that it is quite different from the remainder of the album. For me, I love the dissonance, discord and atonality it brings to the album, without forsaking any of the hope. Towards the Sun is actually an Easter egg of sorts, hinting at what is yet to come. For the One in OneDark is a recognition that this album is the first of a trilogy. The second album, titled TwoLight will hopefully be released at the end of this year, or beginning of 2021.
8 is a lively wee rocker, and Reverence gives the impression of being another tough and heavy track, before the heaviness dissipates into another melodious earworm. The following track is not only my favourite track from OneDark, but it was my favourite song outright of 2019. The Rose, Abloom is a glorious, toe-tapping, infectious song which completely captivates me. It is full of spring and joy and life, and it’s so overwhelmingly positive. There are soft and ethereal melodies, and an insistent, pumping beat. The album could end here, and I would be more than happy.
Yet, there’s more. The Entangled Roots of… is a short, spoken introduction for The Oblivion Tree, which perfectly ends the journey OneDark has taken us on. The spoken word is by Zoe Nolan, who also directed the video for Oblivion Tree. Perhaps the most minimalist of all the tracks on the album, The Oblivion Tree provides some welcome introspection, along with ultimate confirmation of the positivity and personal nature of this release. On that note, what is perhaps most amazing to me, is that this is about as true a solo album as it is possible to be. Ben has written all the songs, played all the instruments, sung the songs, and even mixed and mastered the album. All this after a long struggle with himself about whether the music was good enough to be released. You don’t get much more positive and personal than that.
Oceanica’s debut album was definitely released at the right time for me. Despite its title, it is a celebration of light over dark, and it has definitely helped me through dark times.
01. Youth (1:07)
02. Overcome (5:12)
03. All the Cool Kidz R Doin’ It (4:26)
04. Amounting to Nothing (3:16)
05. Start From the Start (4:42)
06. Oubliette (5:01)
07. Got A Feeling (3:10)
08. Towards the Sun (2:45)
09. 8 (5:06)
10. Reverence (4:22)
11. The Rose, Abloom (5:48)
12a. The Entangled Roots Of… (0:37)
12b. The Oblivion Tree (7:14)
Total Time – 52:46
Benedict Harris-Hayes – All Instruments
Zoe Nolan – Spoken Word (The Entangled Roots)
Record Label: Progressive Gears
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Date of Release: 25th October 2019