New Album Atmospheric and Aching
With such an atmospheric band name — Young Oceans — I wasn’t expecting anything less than a richly layered, atmospheric album, the kind that immediately draws your finger to the “repeat all” button, if you’re into that kind of music. I’ll do my best to explain what “that kind of music” is in this review of Young Oceans’ remarkable I Must Find You.
Instead of doing the usual song-by-song breakdown/description, this review will highlight three sonic ingredients that comprise this Young Oceans version of “that kind of music.”
The Ship that “Achtung Baby” and “Raising Sand” Built Finds a Shimmering Harbor in Young Oceans
One of the greatest rock albums of all time, the Grammy-winning Achtung Baby by U2, was great partly because of its mesmerizing sound that producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno crafted with the band. If you listen to the individual albums of Daniel Lanois or Brian Eno, you hear the same spirit haunting their tracks. In short, it’s a complete mastery of space.
Studio recordings are all about physical proximity achieved by reverb/echo or the lack thereof. An instrument with no reverb or echo sounds nearby, as if it is being played by someone standing a few feet in front of you. An instrument with the most extreme reverb or echo sounds far off, as if they’re playing on the ledge of some distant canyon. Atmospheric music masters this use of space, placing the right instruments at the right time in far-off places or in ones very near to the listener.
In the album I Must Find You we hear dense, far-off layers of guitars and unspecified tone generators ringing, mingling with far-off background vocals or other sirens in the distance — strings (cellos, I think), synths — in combination with other instruments, and the lead singer, who stands closer to the listener. It’s very reminiscent of the hypnotizing colors of Achtung Baby, especially the way it washes out guitars or other instruments that hover closely around the melody of the lead singer.
Raising Sand, another Grammy-winning album, paired Robert Plant with Alison Krauss who, thanks to producer T Bone Burnett, had one of the most soothing blend of voices in the history of modern music. I Must Find You follows in Raising Sand‘s footsteps, the way it presents its lead vocals with great restraint, often paired with an equally restrained backup singer. It is done well, and it flourishes in the Young Oceans atmospheric, spacious environment.
A Wide Array of Orchestration that Morphs at the Right Time
This album has a variety of musical textures: droning guitar colors that shift and stretch, luscious synth pads, Danger Mouse-esque string layers sprinkled with reverb, staccato instrument textures (i.e. tuned percussion, bells, short notes), and choir-like constructions of backup harmony. All of the different colors are timed well, and this is a sign of good orchestration, when they switch instruments and change tone colors at the right moment, just before that tone color begins to sound overplayed. This is an achievement because many of the songs are six minutes or longer. The orchestration keeps your interest even in its longest tracks like the eight minute “I Must Find You.”
A Nuanced, Agile Harmony and Melody
The singer’s lilting melodic dip into major seventh chords in “How Cold It Is,” and the exotic melodic scale, more commonly found in Far or Near Eastern music, used in “Vidi Aquam,” demonstrate the album’s lovely, carefully thought-out melodic construction. I’m not saying they sat down with pencil and paper and notated the album’s music — I have no knowledge of the band’s writing methods — but everything just sounds intentional. That’s always a good thing. The melodies aren’t boring, in other words, even though the singing style is quiet. The melodies play with enough dissonance to justify their existence.
My Heart and Flesh Cry Out for the Living God
As far as lyrical content, Young Oceans’ quiet vocal style and musical layering doesn’t lend itself to in-your-face Jesus slogans shouted in arena rock praise concerts, and that’s a good thing, at least for this genre. With that in mind, you have to listen a little closer to catch the nimble phrases that slip quietly but deftly through the music like a dolphin racing just below the surface, only breaching every few seconds. It has a nice elusiveness to it, but it’s still accessible. In those moments, the lyrics bring some powerful Biblical yearnings — the kind that David articulated in Psalm 84 — to the experience. A few examples:
- “How cold it is without You…I’m burning, burning, burning for You, Lord” (in “How Cold It Is”)
- “I fix my eyes on eternity above…how long, how long until these tears are gone” (in “Until These Tears Are Gone”)
- “Praise the Lord, the Heavens adore Him…God has made His saints victorious, / Sin and death shall not prevail” (in “Praise The Lord Ye Heavens”)
- “Spirit of God, for You I will wait, / Show me Your glory, pour out Your grace, / Into the light, You call me by name” (in “Into The Light”)
- “The Spirit calls in Jesus’ Name, / O Lord of Heaven I embrace Thee, and in Your Presence I’ll remain” (in “To Hear Your Voice”)
Bottom-line? If you love atmospheric, richly textured music with lyrics that yearn for God with the Psalmist’s heart, you’ve found your next kindred spirit in Young Oceans’ I Must Find You.