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Album review: Ocean Grove – Flip Phone Fantasy

A breath of fresh air in the heavy music world. 

Cast your mind back to a simpler time: mobile phones were starting to make their way into daily life and they certainly didn’t have a touchscreen. They were big and chunky and people decked them out with flashing keys and unusual cases. Kids wanted their favourite song as their ringtone so they would key it in or spend way too much of theirs or their parents’ money buying them.  Technology moved so fast.  It went from chunky brick phones to the sleek touch screens we know today that allow us to always be connected.  In the middle of this was the flip phone, which Ocean Grove say was an iconic time marker of this revolution.  And this is what Ocean Grove wanted to capture with their second album ‘Flip Phone Fantasy’; wanting it to be an ode to “The thoughts and sensibilities of the current era filtered through the lens of yesterday.”  So, let’s take a look at exactly how they have done this and see if it translates well into an album.

The band gets straight into the flip phone vibes, with SUPERSTAR starting with a ring tone and someone answering, then breaking into an introduction that has an almost Regurgitator type feel. From this, it breaks into the rap-like verses in the style Ocean Grove is well known for. This song is fun, catchy and will have audiences dancing when played live. From one chaotic song to another, it is then into NEO, which is punchy from the start. In parts, this song is almost reminiscent of Pendulum. It has that heavy electronic music that is a fusion of heavy metal and drum and bass. This was a popular style in the 2000s, which is fitting based on the journey Ocean Grove want to take their listeners on with this album. 

SENSE AGAIN follows suit on the nostalgic vibes with a Regurgitator / nineties Australian rock feel. This song is one of many that shows vocalist Dale Tanner’s versatility.  He delivers the verses in a yell, but the chorus shows off his incredible singing voice. SENSE AGAIN is a sunny, bright banger that is a definite highlight on the album and it leads well into another lively song, SUNNY, which fans are well acquainted with after its release back in December. This song is so fun, especially live when the wall of instruments kicks in for the chorus. Within its dancey chorus and fantastic bridges, SUNNY actually deals with mental health themes. It talks about the struggle to get out of bed, get motivated and be productive and the juxtaposition between how dark you can feel even though the weather is beautiful, and people are getting on with their lives.

After the brightness of SUNNY comes the much darker THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE which is a massive highlight on this album. This song is littered with the familiar electronic elements and rap style verses, but the chorus is a beautiful soaring moment from Tanner. Towards the end, he lets loose on a high note and the extent of his incredible talent shows.

Speaking of Tanner’s aptitude as a vocalist, slow-burner SHIMMER is…. Wow.  What a song! It is much more chilled and quite different to the usual Ocean Grove song, but it’s an optimistic ballad with a gorgeous chorus: “You’re stronger than me/you’re stronger than you think you are”. This song is yet again another example of Tanner’s incredible vocals and has a Trophy Eyes Hurt kind of feel. Sticking to the incredible vocals theme is the hazy FREAKS that finishes the album. This song starts with beautiful warm, rich guitar and slow melodic vocals. Where ‘The Rapsody Tapes’ had The Wrong Way, ‘Flip Phone Fantasy’ has FREAKS. It’s not only the vocals that are incredible in this song, but Matt Henley’s guitar is also superb. Erupting for the first time at the nearly two-minute mark, it goes from warm strumming to full-on rock and roll solos, and Sam Bassal’s incredible drumming comes right along. This song is a great way to close out the album and will be a fantastic addition to a live set. 

There is so much to unpack and discuss on this album, and the sound changes so many times. Firstly, there’s ASK FOR THE ANTHEM and JUNKIE$, which were the first and second tastes of this album and are both perfect examples of a fairly typical Ocean Grove song. While it’s typical Ocean Grove, ASK FOR THE ANTHEM sounds so different than any other song out there. It is heavy but so funky and makes the listener want to dance as soon as the opening demands “Let’s get some”. Such a fun track and it made its way onto many people’s top songs of the year last year. JUNKIE$ in its own right has another great introduction and then hits hard with a wall of instruments and the call of “One time for the bass to make you go”. Yet another dancey tune. Then there are the slow, soulful moments FREAKS and SHIMMER and the slinky BABY COBRA, which barely sounds like Ocean Grove at all.  It’s mostly acoustic with twangs of electric guitar littered through with Tanner singing softly.  It slithers and twists dreamily, and the band have said it is the calm before the storm of ASK FOR THE ANTHEM.  There’s also the sweaty, drum and bass inspired GUYS FROM THE GORD which wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub and the four initial bangers SUPERSTAR, NEO, SENSE AGAIN and SUNNY that open up the album.

Photo: Sam Wong.

And then there is SWAY, which is just a whole different sound altogether – it’s more house music than anything else. This song is just a short minute-and-a-half transition that breaks up ASK FOR THE ANTHEM and JUNKIE$, carrying the funkiness from one song into another. The bass line that bassist Twiggy Hunter plays in this little transition is fantastic, but the song is different. On first listen, it sounds very out of place and a bit odd but after a few listens, it becomes a funky little bridge between two fun, hard-hitting songs that gives the listener a chance to catch their breath.

The band have explained that the ebb and flow of so many different styles was very intentional and is meant to emanate another piece of nostalgia – the mixtape. Tanner explains, “Rather than an album that streamlines in one direction of genre, Flip Phone Fantasy has the capacity to be someone’s very own mixtape from start to finish, but more importantly it offers enough diversity that individual songs should find their way into the playlists of rock listeners and hip-hop listeners alike.”  The album certainly lives up to this. There is something for everyone.

Ocean Grove also cites their music as being of the ‘odd world’ genre and that odd world is their own “all-encompassing artistic ecosystem in which curiosity, passion and weirdness prey on the boring, mundane and regressive.”  The band members themselves are incredibly interesting humans with unique styles, and something has to be said about the way this album has been marketed. The old school pink Motorola Razr that is in their album art has been popping up on their socials while the band toured Europe and then the PR pack contained a card that when opened played a monophonic ringtone of SUNNY. This album wasn’t just a collection of songs thrown together, but something very carefully planned and executed and it’s quite unlike anything else that has been released in a while.

‘Flip Phone Fantasy’ is different but definitely in a good way. It’s a strong album by talented musicians and is a breath of fresh air in a heavy music world that can sometimes just feel like squealing, self-gratuitous guitars, double kicker drums and brutal growls. If you feel like you’re often the oddball (as all the best people are), find yourself at home in the odd world with Ocean Grove.

★★★★✩

FFO: Skindred, Nonpoint, Trophy Eyes

Flip Phone Fantasy is out now via UNFD.

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