With over 250 million streams, an array of sold-out world tours, marquee festival billings and of course a Hottest 100 victory to their name, psych-rock sextet Ocean Alley are on a seemingly endless ascent to the peak of their creative vision. That vision is on full display on their third full-length, Lonely Diamond, a record that sees Ocean Alley exploring the scope of their musical abilities, incorporating elements of 70’s and 80’s guitar rock, old school funk, country and western and Spaghetti Western soundtracks into their already broad psych-rock template. The result is a warm, inviting and, dare I say, nostalgic trip that provides an idyllic escape from the mundanity of our current lives. Arriving in unprecedented times, for both band and fans alike, Lonely Diamond feels like a musical moment, a landmark release for a band on the cusp of Australian music prestige.
It takes a band of a rare and rather daring nature to open a record in 2020 with an instrumental piece. So when the lyricless, tripped out psych jam of ‘Dahlia’ first filled my ears, I was pleasantly surprised, not just by the audacity of the choice, or by the quality of the song itself, both of which are worthy of considerable praise, but by what it suggests Ocean Alley believe they have crafted with Lonely Diamond; a good ol’ proper album. The type of record that you immerse yourself in, as you lay on the living room floor, oblivious to the unfathomable chaos of the world outside.
As the funk-rock vibes of ‘Tombstone’ seduce, it feels as if your ears are being wrapped in a warm blanket of nostalgic soundscapes. Ocean Alley deploying organ, guitar, synth and bass to create a musical waterbed for vocalist Baden Donegal’s soulful vocals, which become more emotional with every repetition of the chorus hook (It seems we landed on the right stone/At the wrong time). It might be 2020 in reality, but by the time the crescendo of ‘Tombstone’ bleeds seamlessly into the slinky 70’s guitar intro of ‘Way Down’ it may as well be the ’70s in your headphones. The tone of the guitars, the honesty of the vocals, the natural sounds of the instrumentation, ‘Way Down’ is a modern rock song, with unashamedly old-world components. Angus Goodwin’s lead work and Donegal’s vocals are each given their hero moments, with Goodwin being given the space to shine in a way guitarists seldom are anymore. Give this one a spin while you’re driving and your smart car will feel like an old convertible muscle car driving into the sunset.
‘Infinity’ continues the timewarp with a spacious slow jam, displaying the Ocean Alleys grasp of the old adage that sometimes the loudest notes are the ones that you don’t play. A sense of escapism emanates from every note, amplified by Donegal’s space-themed lyrical narrative and accompanying delivery. As he soars for the sky every time he repeats the words “we start to fly”, you can see and feel the clouds, inviting you to drift away into the ether. The similarly spacious ‘Up In There’, encourages you to remain in that state of bliss, as Donegal offers reassurance (I know you’ve been feeling kinda ordinary/I want you to know you’re extraordinary) drummer Tom O’Brien, provides the perfect backdrop for Ocean Alley’s three-guitar attack to lock in with bassist Nic Blom and Lach Gailbraith’s keys to create a calming sonic wall of comfort, for which producer Callum Howell no doubt deserves some credit.
Howell’s work on Lonely Diamond is an example of how long term creative partnerships seem to work with a language and familiarity all their own. He just gets Ocean Alley, as well or better than they seem to get themselves. Perhaps nowhere is this more on display than on the album centrepiece ‘All Worn Out’. A hauntingly forlorn key-driven rock ballad with an aura of desperation and loss, ‘All Worn Out’ might be the zenith of Ocean Alley’s songwriting so far. An unexpected turn for the sorrowful that is instantly relatable, ‘All Worn Out’ adds cello and a haunting saxophone solo to the Ocean Alley soundscape, with each adding to the sense of fatigue and resignation that we’ve all felt at some point in time. It might feel out of place among a front-half brimming with escapism and light, but that’s what makes it so effective. Ocean Alley could find new life in exploring this direction, it hints at a depth that some may not be expecting.
The blissed-out ‘Stained Glass’ is a perfect accompanying piece to ‘All Worn Out’, easing you into a familiar sense of comfort with some gorgeous guitar licks and textures, before taking a welcome turn for the kaleidoscopic halfway through. One of many examples on the record of Ocean Alley’s grasp of dynamics, ‘Stained Glass’, is both intimate and expansive in equal measure, making it the perfect segway to the contemplative titular track. ‘Lonely Diamond’ engulfs the listener with a wave of melancholy, before each chorus emerges, bringing a tender warmth that radiates from the speakers into your heart. “Suddenly everything’s alright/ now I’ve fallen in love with the sunshine,” ruminates Donegal, and for a precious few moments, if you close your eyes, you can see it, feel it, experience it, live it. Lonely Diamond is a record that immerses you in its world, ‘Lonely Diamond’ is a song that leaves you with no choice but to fall deeper down the rabbit hole.
Those looking for a follow up to ‘Confidence’ may have been taken back by the attacking nature of ‘Hot Chicken’, a track that embodies the love/hate dynamic of dancing with the devil on your shoulder. Driving guitars, dangerous vocals and aggressive lyrics (“I’ll be the razor/If you want to play”) taking Ocean Alley to more sinister surrounds, an environment in which they surprisingly, although unapologetically thrive. If the subtle hints of Ennio Morricone, in the background of ‘Hot Chicken’ pass you by, it is impossible to miss them on the closing couplet of ‘Puesta de Sol’ and ‘Luna’. The former sounding perfectly suited to soundtracking a gunfight between two old gunslingers in a 1960’s Spaghetti Western and the latter, a ready-made Tarantino film score, waiting for its movie to arrive. Close your eyes and you can almost see the film come to life in your mind. As the final moments of ‘Luna’ pass, you are all too happily lost in another world. A sonic escape. A holiday for the senses. Brought to you by Ocean Alley. It is the artist’s intention fully realised.