Devin Townsend (band) - Ocean Machine
Yes, it's true and it's been true for years now. I, SolitaryMan, has formed a certain bias about Devin Townsend. I came across his work around the time his Terria solo album had released and, between that and everything he'd done prior (both solo and with Strapping Young Lad), I realized I was totally engrossed by and enamored with his music, lyrics and overall persona. He seemed like someone I could relate to, and not so much in the "I would have said that, too!" manner; more like "I would buy this dude a drink if I met him, and fully expect a friendship to mature from it". So, that's where the bias comes from. Every album since Terria, I've approached thinking it would be this amazing, stunningly close-to-home revelation of what music was supposed to be. And you know, I've rarely been wrong. So in terms of strength of bias, I would say there's a clear track record of justification of how powerful it is. And it really started here, chronologically speaking, on Ocean Machine, Devin's first solo album.
Whereas Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, Strapping Young Lad's debut, offered a few glimpses at some really excellent material, the overall vibe was that of a rough, rushed and half-assed endeavor. With Ocean Machine, however, you get the clearest sense of how dedicated Devin must have been to make his statement vividly clear and irresistably impacting. From the spoken word intro and into the pulsing, stomping and painfully constrained "Seventh Wave", that much is clear. "You're never alone / Even when you're alone / You're never alone / Watch the seventh wave" has a deeper meaning, but you don't need it; it manages to create a depth of atmospheres of your choosing just by being said. "Life" is a much more upbeat, pop-centric affair entirely, with bright and layered vocal melodies showing me very early on how dynamic a vocalist Devin is. This, coupled with his...not so much virtuistic but certainly accomplished and experienced guitar playing would be enough to put him in high regard as a frontman in a wide variety of bands. But it's his skill as a songwriter, seen here, on the industrial foreboding of "Night", and the fiendishly catchy "Voices In The Fan" that dictate he remain fully in charge, an artist worthy of doing things his own way. Even when the album takes a sharp turn towards more progish inclinations, as in the 3 lengthy tracks "Funeral", "Bastard" and "The Death Of Music", Devin's ability to layer and lengthen what could otherwise be ideas suited for songs of much shorter length is clear and powerful. "Funeral" is moving and has a depth to it that isn't initially clear; "Bastard" is an increasingly aggressive monster that takes it's time brokering negativity before it leaves you dangling on an unresolved resolution. "The Death Of Music" is the most ambitious track on the record, 12 minutes of ambient noise, tape samples and what remains, to this day, what I consider to be one of the most powerful and underappreciated vocal performances in the annals of recorded music. The way Devin approaches it, slowly and with each repeated chorus adding more power and opening the floodgates just a bit more, teasing you before finally bursting forth with the full scope of his vocal ability...it chills me to the bone all these years later, the same as it ever did.
There is some considerable filler to be found on Ocean Machine, which sadly make what is otherwise the meat of an outstanding album a bit hard to swallow at points. But, taken as a learning experience, and knowing now what he would do with those lessons, makes me think much higher of Ocean Machine than I maybe would have at the time it was released. Still, there's enough here to make it worth recommending, and for anyone who hasn't spent any time with Devin Towsnend and his incredibly diverse discography, I would say it's as good a place to start as any, but especially if you know it won't be both your first and last stop. The evolution of HevyDevy, and the evolution of his abilities as a songwriter, cannot be summed up with any one of his albums. Start here, and keep moving, stopping either when you think you know it isn't for you or simply don't want to spoil in one sitting close to two decades of amazing music.
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on 2007-08-04 SolitaryMan Said:
Ocean Machine was Townsend's solo debut, having previously worked with Steve Vai (vocals on and vocals/guitar during the tour for Vai's "Sex And Religion" LP) amongst other smaller projects. While this album did little to shove Townsend into the modest limelight he enjoys today, it laid a foundation for all the work he'd do in the future. Featuring a group of musicians who Townsend plucked up from his local British Columbia scene, "Ocean Machine" is a loose, sprawling adventure through progressive and often ambient hard rock, which sometmes teeters on metal. There are also a few ambient interludes that serve to create breaks in the waves, so to speak. Many highlights abound, especially for Townsend and his extremely impressive vocal range. "The Death Of Music", a 12-minute journey through the aural cosmos with a minimalist beat and featuring Townsend's roaring, soaring pipes, is perhaps the album's crowning achievement as it combines all the texture and atmosphere DT is so fond of creating, and then some. Of course, no album of Devin's is complete without it's battery of radio-friendly single material, and warm, embracing numbers like "Life", "Night", and "Voices In the Fan" show just how versatile and talented a songwriter he really is. While this album eventually lacks the cohesiveness and direction Townsend would mature into on later efforts, it still is a solid progressive hard rock album with plenty of shining examples of what I consider to be the most interesting mind in music today.