I wish I knew what intangibles there are in the music I like, but at times I don’t. Sure, sometimes it is obvious— a guitar sound or a voice or maybe the production— but most of the time it isn’t. I listen closely (it seems like I am listening all the time these days, so much good music passes over my desk) and I wait for that certain something or maybe I hear it right off but don’t know how to describe it. It isn’t as easy as it once was and certainly isn’t as easy as most listeners think. (Music critic? A snap. And look at all the free music they get. They should be paying someone else to do that.)
What they don’t realize is that there is no one else. Writing is lonely enough and writing about music doubly so because music is so personal that you pretty much have to listen in a vacuum. Being objective is almost an insult to the artists, or should be. Some critics skirt the issue by comparing, thinking that the description of the music is enough. Others couch their reviews in objectivity so obvious that the music is almost not even there, it being hogtied as it were and banished to a corner of the barn or garage. For myself, though, the music is so alive that it is just short of a person and I write about it that way. Not all the time, thank the gods, for it can be emotionally draining and incredibly frustrating, but much of the time.
Take Picture The Ocean. I was introduced to them a couple of years ago when they were a duo, just Jesse Dee & Jacquie B, and took to them right away. There was something about their style— the voices blending in an almost confrontational way rather than a smooth harmonious way, the music acoustic but not really, the songs just far enough outside the box to separate them from the flock. I liked it. A lot. Of course, they were not just a duo but a band and “that other guy”, Matt Blackie, was there too. The album, Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls, was an eye-opener. They danced around different musical styles and were interesting at the very least, but way more than interesting to me. I heard the music both as it was and as it was going to be in the future (if things took them all in the same direction) and latched onto them with both hands and both ears.
That faith got me a preview of the “new” band and the new album and I have been listening and thinking and thinking and listening until my head hurts so much I can’t think. I’ve been listening for awhile— a couple of months at least— and I am no closer to finding the magic key to explaining the music as I was at first listen. Like I said, it can be frustrating.
I know that the easy flowing jazz chord progressions of Everything Is Erased offset by the harmonious major-chorded chorus gives me a rush every time I hear it, which is a way of saying that it is a beautifully constructed song and not what I would expect from anyone but PTO. Wake Me Up is almost prog-like in its long-but-not-long-enough intro, but it is the beautiful side of prog, and when the song really kicks in it kicks in with that Jesse Dee & Jacquie B attitude I loved on their Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls album (and listen to that bridge, the organ laying bedrock for the simple perfectly strummed electric guitar!). You might think that Russia? was filler until you really looked at the sequencing of the album’s tracks. It is instrumental and while they borrow the rhythm from, say, I Put a Spell On You, they traipse around enough to make it a trip and a half and sandwiching it between Everything Is Erased and the lighter rock of Scars works to highlight all three. And there is Erehwon and Sick With You andThe Storm and my head spins with the depth of it all and struggle with the words.
I mean, I could go on but what I really want to do is play the album for you and I want to do it when you are relaxed and receptive and ready to hear. You need to feel at ease to get the most out of Picture The Ocean. You need to erase all other music from your mind and let the songs wash over you, individually and collectively. Like I do. But I am so plugged in to what they are doing it is more like being sucked in to an alternate universe than accepting the music into mine. I have been entering that universe a lot over the past few months and while I know what I want to say, words fail me.
Tell you what, though. Bookmark this page. When you’re feeling like you need to hear something new and worthy— when you want to explore— click on it and listen. Make it your decision and not one made at the behest of some unknown quantity. Take your time. It is the only way to fully appreciate what these guys do. And if they play anywhere in your area, go see them live. I plan on it, if they ever venture to Portland or Eugene or I happen to stumble onto them while on the road. I want to see these guys— bad.
About that other guy. He is no longer that other guy but is now Matt Blackie, a voice and the rhythm behind Picture The Ocean. All it took was a few listens. Listen closely. You’ll hear why.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.