Photo by Alex Joseph
The artist known as Oceanator lives up to her moniker on Nothing’s Ever Fine (Polyvinyl Record Co.), the Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist’s second full-length release—co-produced with her brother/longtime bandmate Mike Okusami as well as Bartees Strange—an album that rolls in on a gentle tide of arpeggiated guitar and loping drums before a crashing wave of power chords and glistening melody disrupts the dewy vibe of the opening track “Morning,” a tidal dynamic that’s also at play on the album’s final track “Evening” which depicts the “sky fad[ing] from black to red” in a waltz-time arrangement utilizing acoustic guitar, Mellotron, a choir of cicadas, and a final burst of sonic fireworks akin to that great yellow-red orb of ours putting on a fiery light show just before it slips under the oceanic horizon.
In other words, this is an album that captures both the ocean’s shimmering translucent beauty (see: the outro to “Summer Rain”) and its sheer, unforgiving raw power (see: “Post Meridian”/“Stuck”) and you’d best keep an eye out for its dark emotional undertow too (e.g., “Bad Brain Daze”) which can suck you under at a moment’s notice.
And just in case you think I’m blowing smoke up your funnel (who me?!) the high tide/low tide oceanic theme is made explicit in more than a few of the record’s lyrics which contrast, for instance, the American Pastorale of driving out to the beach with a “cherry coke and crumpled bag of french fries lying on the passenger seat” with the more fatalistic admission that “by the ocean is where I wanna be / when this all comes to an end / crack a cold one and watch the tsunamis come / surrounded by my friends” sung over a buoyant power-pop arrangement.
This arresting mix of escapism and fatalism fits neatly within Elise Okusami aka Oceanator’s self-professed love of science fiction writing, in particular as authored by Black female writers, a literary genre known for exploring the extremes of utopian/dystopian thinking—consider for instance Octavia Butler’s deft interweaving of humanism and hope with her prescient depiction of this century’s convergence of climate crisis and reactionary politics in her two Parable novels written in the ‘90s—and it’s not hard to see why various protagonists on Nothing’s Ever Fine express the desire to “strike out on our own / trying to find a new home” allowing that “all I wish, all I want / is to be on another planet with you.” (Jason Lee)
Oceanator kicks off a 22-date national tour in Phoenix on May 20th, and plays seven dates across the UK in late August and early September.