The Ocean Blue surfs into Jammin’ Java

The Ocean Blue. (Credit: Ocean Blue)

WASHINGTON, February 05, 2014 – The crowds at Jammin’ Java have a consistent tendency to swing dramatically in the direction of whatever band is currently performing there. For whatever reason, the level of crossover-openness in this audience isn’t very high, making it relatively easy guess what era the band on stage is known for, based almost solely on the age of the audience. During their recent onstage appearance here, Ocean Blue didn’t skew the trend of this suburban venue.

This Hershey Pennsylvania four piece, is a band that hit its peak during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. They’ve recently made this this functionally clear with the release of their new album “Ultramarine.” It’s their first full-length album in 14 years, but it still continues their tradition of issuing aquatic-themed album titles.

Even thirty years after their original formation, Ocean Blue is a band that wears their influences on their collective sleeve. They were formed in the midst of the 1980s post-punk explosion that dominated both the mainstream and underground at various points, a powerful influence that’s still massively prevalent in today’s guitar oriented pop/rock.

Oddly enough, this means that while “Ultramarine” isn’t really a departure from their previous releases, their sound, especially heard live, feels as if it still has a place even in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Considering the band’s history, this makes plenty of sense. They are a band that launched a career and signed recording contracts while its members were still in their teens. What they did then is still organic to their sound today. There’s a heavy Smiths and New Order feel to the Ocean Blue’s sound, though these influences are subtle in their live sets. Several years ago, their output may have seemed too retro and oddly out of place.

Yet what goes around comes around as the saying goes. Good music trends have a way of coming back around again.

And that’s exactly what’s happened with the Ocean Blue. They’ve faithfully stuck to their musical guns, to borrow another expression, holding on to their traditional sound even this new incarnation.

This is consistent with Ocean Blue’s core musical beliefs, even though the band’s current incarnation has retained only two of its original members: front man Dave Schelzel and bass player Bobby Mittan. They’re the primary custodians of this band’s sound, although we should also acknowledge the contributions of keyboardist/guitarist Oed Ronne, who has been with them for 20 years now.

The band’s name, Ocean Blue, meshes perfectly with this ensemble’s live sound. They primarily focus their sound on melodic post-punk/new wave, which has always lent itself to a very easygoing, laconic vibe—something the band glides  into effortlessly.

There are strong snyth elements in the band’s live sound. But this, too, is integrated into the band’s output without drawing undue attention as it mixes effortlessly with the band’s airy guitar atmospherics. This blend is important to the band’s subtle and laid back style, serving to enhance Schelzel’s mellow, meticulous vocals, all of which combine to make Ocean Blue easy to experience.

One difference from this band’s initial iteration is that Ocean Blue’s is more mature and self-assured now than it once was. But there’s still a sense that the teenagers who heavily incorporated the Smiths and New Order into their sound are still somewhere within. After all, a band as consistent as the Ocean Blue has been over the years never quite loses its musical and personal roots and would likely to be foolish to totally abandon the sound that made them famous.

But their set Jammin’ Java here provided ample proof of how they’ve managed to build on their early influences to create their own mature sound. That’s reason enough to explain why Ocean Blue us still touring—and still drawing new, appreciative audiences—nearly 30 years after they first went on the road.

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