I’m going to start a petition to ban bands that are so good it’s hard for reviewers to put into words. Ocean Grove are the first on this list, because damn Flip Phone Fantasy proved to be tough going for this reviewer. HOW could one possibly find the right adjectives to capture each of the unique glimmering moments across the landscape of this album? I attempted the challenge anyway, so please, read on as I juggle words awkwardly and push them together, a bit like a dodgy bricklayer.
* ring, ring *
* beep! *
“SUPERSTAR” is when our phone rings and Flip Phone Fantasy kicks off. A hefty riff with an accompanying sense of alarm (yet also bucketloads of sassiness) lands, and we begin to learn about the ‘superstar’ in question. I understand the song to be capturing the appeal and mystique of someone special.
Barely a minute in, there’s already a sense of fun and bounce, and the rap rhythm vocals add to this. Smooth and practically slurred backing vocals give it all an intimate and sensual feel. I had to laugh when the line “Yes it is I, the greatest alive” landed, so light and enunciated, with buoyant confidence inspired from having had this superstar in their life. There’s a really nice groove to that, with meandering backing vocals combined, and it all feels good, floaty, and lovely. “SUPERSTAR” makes for a great easing in to this new chapter for Ocean Grove.
The heftier chorus is relatively monotone in terms of Dale Tanner’s voice, but it expresses how perplexed he is about how she manages to do what she does and the effect she has on him. Whether the intention or not, “Glasses on, got the hair tied back” sparks a thought about attraction to someone even when they’re not looking traditionally hot. The protagonist is under her spell regardless.
I enjoying the endless layers of sound at every turn and the peppering of effects along the way, and that sense of alarm via guitar. It all becomes more and more punchy and lyrically determined as he refuses to part with her and beckons her in instead. More and more energetic and calling to this person, it doubles as drawing the listener in at the same time. Is the line “Let me see your hands, it’s the best bit!” for us or for her? Either way it feels great, and sets up a messy, riffy, bouncy moment which I can see being a lot of fun live! There’s also a really enticing climb along with mammoth effort via guitar, and this combined with the aforementioned smooth and sensual vibe has it all feel amazing.
Despite saying so much already for only one song of the album, I’m certain I’ve not come close to capturing the colourful party that “SUPERSTAR” is. As it nears its end, my ears enjoy the haunting backing vocal that shares words of the chorus, and comes across like a sentiment drifting into the ether. Huge and razor sharp guitars see us into the next track, “NEO”.
Simple in terms of lyrics, this blunt and punk fierce track lands heavily. As I’d shared when “NEO” released, bassist/vocalist Twiggy Hunter’s short vocal jabs and their call-and-return style leave nothing unsaid, and the song comes across as contained and tense.
In revisiting “NEO” for this review, the frantic scramble via guitar stands out to me, almost like it’s hard to keep up with it. I appreciate the dance between defense and vulnerability between the verses and choruses. I’m left pondering about the inspiration behind the track, while embracing its kaleidoscopic choruses and the other chaotic scenes that find their way into the song.
After the blunt defenses of “NEO”, third track “SENSE AGAIN” is an easy one to melt into. Its “Ahh” vocals, tamborine shakes, and noisy riffs are a sweet invitation to be with it. Little “ooh-ohh”‘s add flare to the genuine core of what is being said. Lyrically the song got me thinking about Twitter callouts and cancel culture, and how these things can potentially shape personality. The talking about an ‘enemy’ and lines of “A little tongue in cheek, yeah / A bullet to the head again” seemed to reinforce this idea. Things can be taken so badly when condensed to 120 characters or short soundbites without nuance or context.
Regardless of what it’s about, “SENSE AGAIN” shines with its stunner of a chorus; a majestic stretching of wings and soaring high above all the bullshit. It talks about finding sense, and also senses. They’re different but go hand in hand, because in that tense ‘What can I even say?’ situation, you’re disconnecting from who you are and the act of noticing your senses is the opposite of that because it draws you into the present. At least, this is my take, and it comes across as so simple, so beautiful, and so important. We’re so much more than our social media personas.
More gutsy at the second verse, “SENSE AGAIN” wildly kicks home the idea of self-responsibility: “You are the cause and the remedy”, which just seems to bleed into the need to return back to the simple and the real that’s shared in the chorus. Find some sense, use your senses. The chorus carries a promise of freedom in doing so, and good God, I love this chorus, as well as the gorgeous gliding via guitar afterward.
I took the ending moment of “I’m just trying to be myself” to capture what can be a wrestling match between being that passive and malleable person in a safe social standing, or going forth and being yourself and owning the consequences if your ideas push against the status quo. If you’re not being yourself you’re harming yourself but also standing out can be a risk. It’s like ‘How can I be myself and express that without being attacked for doing so?’.
The familiar sounds of “SUNNY” follow on, and I’m enjoying how this too is a take on individuality and doing things in your own way as we’ve heard before it. The hand-clapping dejected start takes us into a dingy space, wondering what else there is, before blasting out rainbows of freedom at the chorus.
The feelgood tune is a majestic one by way of guitar and a pace you can’t help fall into, and the chorus and “la la la”‘s are too easy to join in with. I appreciated how in “SUNNY” the guys of Ocean Grove are oozing freedom of choice; whether to live to odd schedules (“Waking up at 3am you’ll never fix me”), to get high or not, to be outside or not, cancelling events you don’t want to be at. It’s a freedom to make choices based on who you are and what you want for yourself. This ‘come as you are’ vibe seems to be Ocean Grove’s ethos, spanning all the way back to the Rhapsody Manifesto.
Beginning with a soundbite (from where, I’m not sure), “THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE”’s synthy and sampled intro is an unexpected choice for Ocean Grove. A more familiar sounding fat riff kicks in, coming across with an unstoppable determination/drive which reminded me of a military tank. There’s still more surprises to come when the rapped vocals land, with everything pared back to a electro beat. Rapidfire vocals set a scene of someone coming from the future to prevent destruction (maybe?).
Easy to sink into even in its unexpectedness, the more familiar splendour of an Ocean Grove chorus is icing on top; soaring, searching, strong, and feels like eels ‘Is anyone here with me?’. Fans will also feel at home with the mammoth guitar brushstrokes that cover this track, while divine agile vocal rhythms lightly dance over it. “THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE” shares observations about the way we are, and how we forget the human factor and get pulled into rhythms that don’t suit us. I’m not sure if this is about something fictional or something metaphorical about our human lives.
I ADORE the bridge. It carries the same effortless agility of vocals, from which I get a mental image of someone darting all over the place looking for answers and searching for something real. It’s a dreamy, drifty, and melty surrender into this other reality, and the appearance of the bass adds warmth to this experience of trying to break through. Full and fierce, the return of the chorus is just as searching as before, and also includes a satisfying rising moment of both voice and guitar. Going full circle, we return to where we began. Though I’m still unsure of meaning, “THOUSAND GOLDEN PEOPLE” is beautiful nonetheless and feels like it implies that the truth of everything is connection and love:
“If all the stars were crumbling, the night’s not what it used to be,
you love someone? would you love someone?”
“GUYS FROM THE GORD” is another odd unexpected one by way of sound, making me feel like this is Flip Phone Fantasy‘s “Slow Soap Soak”, in a good way. Dreamy backing vocals with tumbling rap and a synth melody that builds, “GUYS FROM THE GORD” satisfyingly culminates at “All I need for this lifetime is two heartbeats and a baseline”.
What could be a crowd full of hands clapping in time, a percussive feast proves electric, with excitement coursing through veins. Slipping and whirring with grit and hectic vocal rhythms, excitement turns to anxiousness. In this pulsing headspace, it’s so easy to sink into the song its flow, and I’m curious as to what it’s about.
The rush of chemicals couple with freedom and music, and “GUYS FROM THE GORD” comes across as giving yourself up to the moment. With the darker tones at times, and the melody at the return to the same vocals at the start, I got an impression of there being something missing, inspiring a wavering at the heart.
Regardless of its weirdness, there’s something really satisfying about this “GUYS FROM THE GORD”. The first time I heard it, it was like ‘Yes, they’ve hit it with this’, and I stand by that, even with the clanking, clapping, monstrous zorby kind of pulses in my ears, repeating in a loop to the song’s end.
With “SHIMMER” it seems like the weird has been shed and we’re in straight-laced territory and having a lovely time of it. There’s an immediate heartstring-tugging nostalgia with this song and a sweet dreaminess with the radiant guitar tone. There’s yet another great chorus from Ocean Grove on this track, and the bass just won me over further.
Reflective about someone and what they’re going through, “SHIMMER” is encouraging toward someone they love. I found that I wasn’t even thinking critically/reviewery because I was too busy captivated by the story, and wanting to hear from this encouraging presence in this person’s life. There’s so much love in this.
As well as observing this person, they’re also thinking about their past and how they could have been there for them. It’s so beautiful, that they care so much that they want to run through their timeline, find them in the past and be there for them. What a gift to have someone unconditionally loving you, and looking for the radiance that they know is there. The song’s ending suddenly pares back, reminding me of breathing, and sets a quiet and intimate scene for “BABY COBRA”.
Again more straight-laced (though I love the weird, I’m not complaining at all!), “BABY COBRA” is immediately endearing. The whispery and otherworldly quality to Twiggy’s vocals is just beautiful, reminding me of being in a daydream, or maybe intoxicated and under the spell of another. It’s a pleasure to be with.
Pared back guitar fills the ears while a cool breeze blows across this dazed state. Sedate and almost sleepy, with a gentle melody and wrapped up in bass warmth, it’s all too good. With greater instrumentation it expands into a more full bodied and immersive atmosphere, before returning to whispers that fade away.
Things are not so sleepy anymore when “ASK FOR THE ANTHEM” shows up. It’s honestly tough to review this, because I’ve been listening to it pretty much daily since it released. Since it’s cracked 1M streams on Spotify, I’m probably not alone in this addiction. The tasty treat of a song is undeniably fun to be with, and whether intended or not, the lyrical description of someone going gaa-gaa over a song seems to be what’s happened here.
I can’t find fault with this song, which seems to find a sweet spot of heavy and dancey and is unbridled Ocean Grove in action. The groove and angular riffs that punctuate the track keep the listener on their toes, practically setting them up to let loose in the free falling anthemic chorus. Energetic flowing lyrics come with sass and force, and the stop-start nature of it all is treat, let alone the “ahh” backing vocals and other voice effects.
And while we’re talking about groove and and letting loose and falling into songs on Flip Phone Fantasy, the mostly instrumental “SWAY” is one of these too. Little chimes and plucked guitar melodies have this come across as just plain cool.
Coming toward the album’s end, we have “JUNKIE$”, which Dale had shared when it released as a single that it was written “from the very same studio session mojo” as “ASK FOR THE ANTHEM”. It’s similarly energetic, and that effervescent and driven chorus will set up permanent residence in your memory.
In the context of this album, “JUNKIE$” came across to me about a love of music and maybe more specifically about Ocean Grove being a collective of individuals that can’t be/won’t be predicted or enclosed by way of sound. In contrast to the brash force of the rest of the song, the quieter moment at the bridge runs goosebumps down my arms, seeming to mark a quiet decision to go forth in being whoever the fuck they want to be. Soaring high and in celebration, the song feels damn good, and I suddenly feel grateful that it exists at all.
In fact I feel grateful that Ocean Grove exist, even through navigating things like line-up shifts and other challenges. “FREAKS” is the perfect close to this album, coming across like a homecoming as well as an important confession, needed to get something off their chest(s).
While Dale is singing you can hear speaking from Running Touch, and it’s strangely moving, that combination of voices, as well as the instrumental waves of guitar in their clarity. Though the lyrics don’t give away too much, every other facet of this song has so much wrapped up in it that it’s emotionally drawing. The song feels like a massive exhalation, a weight off, and it is likely to inspire tears.
Expanding into a full band sound, “FREAKS” is amazing, and a definite favourite of mine on Flip Phone Fantasy. The beautiful song left me with a feeling that I can’t put into words easily. Climbing again and again, this climactic song is kind of beyond words. It struck me as a really special ending to the album. Despite its grandeur of sound, there’s no facade, no airs, and no trying to be anything else other than who they are. It’s full-hearted and unfiltered Ocean Grove.
The entire journey of Flip Phone Fantasy is tough to encapsulate in a neat sentence, let alone a paragraph or two. The album title and its associated imagery comes across as fun and light and carefree ‘whatever’, but there’s definite heart that fuels the Ocean Grove collective and their creation of incredible songs.
A thread of embracing individuality ran through the entirety of this album, as did themes of love and connection, not to mention the joy of music. Those themes are legitimately what I see in this band. And though they invite people in to understand things how they see them, if you just want to dance or scream along with them, then that’s okay too.
Whether it’s in the fire of “NEO”, the dark trancey world of “GUYS FROM THE GORD”, the whispered intoxication of “BABY COBRA”, the heartfelt balladry of “FREAKS”, or the bouncy singalongs of “ASK FOR THE ANTHEM”, Flip Phone Fantasy brilliantly expresses the heart and soul of Ocean Grove. The band embody the importance of individuality and to look to the heart instead of assume a prescribed or expected image. Flip Phone Fantasy is a fitting tribute to that, and a breathtaking adventure to be with.
Flip Phone Fantasy releases on 13th March (which also happens to be my birthday!). Pre-order here: https://unfd.lnk.to/FlipPhoneFantasy[Our patrons can see how this review was created via our Patreon!]
Though listeners are pulled through many different sounds and styles, Flip Phone Fantasy is a captivating ride that gives greater understanding as to what makes Ocean Grove tick. There's few bands that can do it like Ocean Grove!