'Lonely Diamond' Review: Ocean Alley blend soulful sounds with groovy vibes on this trippy musical cruise
'Lonely Diamond' melds '70s guitar rock, country and western, old-school funk and synth-heavy new wave tones into a heady yet soothing listening experience
The genre-melding, six-member Australian band Ocean Alley is a rare blend indeed, presenting us with a rather pleasant paradox when it comes to their eclectic music. Despite being a band that has garnered over 250 million-plus streams and played at major festivals all over the world, they are still creating music with their distinct, intimate sound – all on their own terms. From their humble beginnings of jamming in a backyard in 2011 to a career that encompasses two EPs and three albums thus far, Ocean Alley's musical journey is as vast and varied as the ocean itself.
To the uninitiated, their 2018 album ‘Chiaroscuro’ gave listeners a taste of their funk, soul, surf, psychedelic rock, and blues-infused music, never making any of these distinct sounds home for too long. Soulful, melodic, and groovy, their music is an invitation to good vibes and greater times. Their latest offering and third studio album, 'Lonely Diamond' is an exploration of '70s guitar rock, country and western, old school funk and synth-heavy new wave, resulting in a listening experience that is a heady yet soothing musical journey.
Guitarist Mitch Galbraith recounts the process saying, "There wasn't a clear direction at first and I think that's what our music writing process is all about. We don’t actively try to make our music in any particular way, but we always have this subconscious sense of wanting to explore other sounds, which explains why this record sounds different to 'Chiaroscuro', without trying to make it like that." As such, ‘Lonely Diamond’ stills retains the soul-essence of Ocean Alley, yet is a chronicle of the journey their sound has taken since their sophomore release.
Vocalist Baden Donegal adds, "I think of 'Chiaroscuro' as the younger sibling of this album. The songwriting process didn’t really change, but obviously, as people you have more life experience, you mature a bit and that shows in your songwriting and musicianship. With Chiaroscuro, we just went in there and did it, whereas this record we took time to reflect. We demoed, we wrote, we re-wrote. It’s got more depth to it, but not intentionally, it was just a natural progression. Everything that has happened in the last 12 months in Australia – drugs at festivals, lockouts, bushfires, personal stuff that we had going on as a group of friends – that’s all gone into the album. There’s a lot of dark or heavy moments, and a lot of that comes from the unknown, but it has a shine."
Oozing with psychedelic overtones, the album opener 'Dahlia' could just as well be the OST to Jodorowsky's 'El Topo'. It paints a mystical desert sunset scene as the listener sets out on a sojourn across time and space. 'Lonely Diamond' is ripe with themes of exploration and escapism as these 12 intricately crafts tracks show. As Mitch explains, "It's pushing forward into the unknown… taking a journey to a different place or a different time that seems familiar or that you’ve been before, and all the emotions that come with that."
'Tombstone' begins with a smooth, groovy rhythm with crisp guitars transcending into a cruising rock 'n' roll beat, very reminiscent of music from the early '80s. It then shifts into some super-psychedelic moments with some masterfully produced guitars, synths, and vocals.
With 'Way Down', we get a faster, groovier slice of smooth rock which further delves into ideas of escapism. The trippy guitars really sell this song and there's another notable segment where the band glides into surf-rock waters, which really brings this potential fan-favorite together wonderfully well. By contrast, 'Infinity' has a complex and heavy atmosphere, but contains some of the finest music on this album. Another jazz-break-like segment has the band ending the song with a hard, almost desert-rock sound.
As if on cue, the next song 'Up In There' is sublime, dreamy, and ripe with hope. "You should know you're extraordinary" is what we need to truly realize about ourselves and Ocean Alley perfectly convey that with this song. Ethereal harmonies, dreamy guitars, and lofty keys envelop the listener in a comforting embrace we truly deserve in times such as these.
The next track 'All Worn Out' is somber, slow and reflective. "It showed us how you could persist with one main idea yet change so much around it," reveals Mitch. With a lush country-rock sound, the pianos on this shine through to create a gorgeous and contemplative, yet cathartic piece. With the exquisite saxophone solo towards the song's end, it is easy to see where the Pink Floyd comparisons come from and they are richly deserved.
Steel/slide guitars play the exquisite opening notes on their next beautiful song, 'Stained Glass'. It's incredibly dreamy, with the rhythm guitars giving it an almost Bossanova vibe before building into a complex and powerful section that takes you by surprise. While it could seem like an old-hat trick by now, these sudden shifts into uncharted waters never get tedious and you eagerly wait for their next sonic twist as the song unfolds.
The title-track 'Lonely Diamond' starts off as contemplative and melancholy, yet gives way to bursts of tender warmth that shine through. "Suddenly everything's alright, now I’ve fallen in love with the sunshine" go the lyrics. This warmth is inherent in their music, as even in the depth of haunting melancholia, Ocean Alley's sound seems infused with resplendent illumination.
'Wet Dreams' is a groovy slice of country-rock, drenched in a moody atmosphere much in the vein of Chris Isaak or Foreigner. There is a lot going on here musically, as this seems almost like a meeting of the minds jam. Each band member plays off the other’s strengths to create an oddly beautiful track.
With the rollicking ‘Hot Chicken', Ocean Alley ride back towards the acid-soaked sunsets of ‘Dahlia’. The driving bassline and soaring guitars are eerily reminiscent of Chris Rea, giving this song an Arctic Monkeys/Josh Homme 'Desert Sessions' vibe. It is incredible that one album can take you to so many places without it feeling like a bumpy, unpleasant ride. You truly are surfing on an ocean alley.
'Puesta de Sol' is another heady, atmospheric track in keeping with the neo-western sound of the previous song. A slow, aching western ballad done in Ocean Alley style, it is flush with complexity and emotion, retaining a quintessential desert-rock essence.
The album ends with 'Luna', a seemingly freeform jam soaked in the prevalent desert-rock vibes of the last few tracks. This is a three-and-a-half-minute showcase of Ocean Alley's true capabilities as an impressively talented band. This gorgeous, lone ride into the sunset is steeped in a bittersweet melancholy - it is both an apt soundtrack for our modern times, yet oddly cathartic and soothing to the soul.
While the Ennio Morricone influences can’t be refuted, a lot of the music on 'Lonely Diamond' can be a surprising treat for fans of the aforementioned 'Desert Sessions' or even The Last Shadow Puppets. For fans who look forward to more of Ocean Alley’s great music, Baden reassures us, "We've experienced the world stage now, the ultimate goal would be to tour as long as we can and still enjoy it – just travel the world with your best mates and make music, then come back and sit on the beach for the rest of your lives."