Australia has produced some truly great musical acts throughout history, ranging all the way from AC/DC and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, to the more recent Tame Impala and the Avalanches. Out of the latest wave of exciting bands to come out of the country’s music scene, Ocean Alley seems poised as the next one likely to make the leap to stardom. Hailing from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, the group has been carving a reputation for its blend of laid-back surf and psychedelic rock to great success, climbing the charts of Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 2018 and making various festival appearances in the past year.
Released June 19, Ocean Alley’s long-awaited third album Lonely Diamond finds the band expanding the boundaries of its sound, reaching across the spectrum from classic rock balladry to Western-inspired jams and blues numbers. The result is the band’s most diverse offering, providing just enough of the familiar while never staying in one lane long enough to pin down. Over the course of its 12 tracks, Lonely Diamond captures Ocean Alley in a mode of exploration, offering 45 minutes of euphoric rock sure to capture the hearts of fans old and new alike.
The strength of Lonely Diamond lies in the band’s newfound sonic variety. Instrumental track “Dahlia” opens the record with spacey atmospherics, a mix of keys and droning lazer-like effects establishing the mood before the song is shifted into high gear by a confident driving beat and an exchange of roaring guitars. On the beautiful “All Worn Out,” featuring oboes and saxophone, the band feels looser and more confident as classical piano glides alongside delicate vocal harmonies. These songs deliver on Ocean Alley’s promise of blissful ambience in fresh and interesting ways.
Tracks such as “Tombstone” and “Way Down” call back to the band’s signature sound with sharper focus on frontman Baden Donegal’s outstanding vocals, which fall somewhere impressively between the vocals of bands such as Kings of Leon and Young the Giant. Donegal’s delivery is polished and full of swagger, blending perfectly into the band’s psychedelic mix. His voice carries the weight of the band’s singles — the secret ingredient to why the band’s melodies shine so bright.
While sharp lyricism and songwriting have never been the band’s main focus, Lonely Diamond’s laid-back energy proves to be the album’s biggest crutch. The album’s cohesion lies primarily in its sonic palette, prioritizing the overall vibe of the record rather than exploring any narrative or daring theme over the course of its song cycle. Though the album shifts directions various times, the lax atmosphere begins to dull the edges of even the standout songs, resulting in a listening experience that varies in quality depending on how attentively the music is listened to. Though there are bright spots, Lonely Diamond feels at times more like background music rather than a diamond in the rough.
The highlight of the record is the penultimate song “Puesta de Sol,” in which the band spins a tale of hell-bent love and destruction. Lyrically, the track marks the strongest songwriting that the band has ever presented. All the essential components of a murder ballad are here, this time with a Western spin reminiscent of Tom Petty: lonely graves, a roll of the dice and a deal with the devil. In the song’s chorus, Donegal’s vocals hit a sweet spot, adding to the track’s sense of drama with lines such as, “And now I know, that you keep all your love in cages/ Ooh, now I know not to test your patience.” Paired with the sleek instrumental track “Luna,” the song serves as a perfect end to the band’s sonic odyssey as the album fades out into silence.
Ultimately, Lonely Diamond provides glimpses into the various promising new directions that Ocean Alley can take with its music. For better and for worse, the album makes good on the promise of smooth psychedelic rock that has catapulted the band to the success it’s now achieved. Hopefully, Ocean Alley continues riding this wave of euphoria to exciting new heights.
Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].