The Ocean Party – The Sun Rolled Off The Hills

Like kindred spirits Oh Mercy, The Ocean Party come steeped in Australiana influences, the sort that its OK to like. The Triffids, Paul Kelly and the like find their way into their warm, laid-back mix, along with the sort of laconic, countrified sensibilities that can be traced back to their Wagga roots.

The Sun Rolled Off The Hills is their first full length, coming off the back of a string of small-batch releases, each more fully realised than the last. The timing feels right for a next step, and yet there’s not the sort of buzz that ought to be surrounding a band this good. Is their subtlety lost on many? Melbourne in 2012 the wrong place and wrong time for a synth-free, gimmick-free indie pop band? Most importantly, will The Sun Rolled Off The Hills cast some deserved light on its creators?

The Sun Rolled Off The Hills is an assured, cohesive piece of work from a band capable of making it sound easy – too easy, arguably. The Ocean Party’s arrangements are designed to breathe, leaving plenty of room for Lachlan Denton’s voice and lyrics, by turns wry and wounded. This is a winning gambit, as Denton has a beautiful turn of phrase, delivered with a seemingly permanent lump in the throat. The problem is that this lump, endearing though it is, rather limits The Ocean Party’s emotional palette and blunts the impact of the lyrics. Songs like Young Love, with its sweet, unhurried groove, end up coming off as dispirited rather than downbeat.

Furthermore, while the decision to record the album live in a living room creates a lovely back-porch vibe, it further limits the band’s sonic options: bass, drums, guitar and piano, same amps, same tones, no overdubs. This means that the first few listens seem to drift by completely, with little jumping out to grab the ear.

None of the above, though, detracts from the quality of the band’s craft, the extent of which reveals itself upon further listens. Opener The Dogs fails to crack the two-minute mark, but in that time it manages to beautifully evoke a sunburnt rural scene, thanks to an arrangement that perfectly fits Denton’s sleepy lyric. Live staple Shakin’ Like A Leaf is as sweet an evocation of the virgin’s plight as exists in the rock and roll canon (not that this is a crowded category, to be fair). Some tracks mightn’t quite be as compelling as others, but the quality control never really falters across the album, which is a noteworthy achievement by a young band in the iTunes era.

At their best, they can nail the tricky balance between slick and sincere, but over the long stretch of an LP, a band needs a few more strings to their bow if they are to catch the ears of a wider audience. However, what The Ocean Party do, they do very well, and The Sun Rolled Off The Hills is a set of effortless indie pop tunes that seem to get better and better.