Album Review: Hey Ocean! “Is”

Hey Ocean! - Is

If you were to add Canadian trio Hey Ocean!’s album IS (2012) to your Amazon shopping cart, it would let you know that customers who bought this album also bought My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Season 1 on DVD. Which might seem incongruous until you realize that lead singer Ashleigh Ball provides the voice for MLPonies Rainbow Dash and Applejack. That Ball has a set of pipes on her should come as no surprise to any Pony fan[*] who’s heard her sing on “Find a Pet” or “Apples to the Core.” What may come as a surprise is that she, and her partners-in-crime David Beckingham and David Vertesi, are indie popsmiths of the first order.

Is opens with a knockout one-two-three punch. “If I Were a Ship” kicks things off with African kalimba and a gorgeous vocal melody and one of the finest one-liners I’ve ever heard. “Music is love in search of the words” – amen to that. With its Latin-tinged, rapid-fire chorus, “Make a New Dance Up” picks up the tempo like an indie version of the Miami Sound Machine. And “Big Blue Wave” is pure, hooky guitar pop. It’s not complex stuff – “Our love is like a big blue wave,” “You make me wanna dance like no one ever has.” But it’s blissfully, irresistibly catchy, the kind of music that, in a better possible word, would be storming the charts right now.

It would be easy to simply put these three songs on endless repeat and forget that there’s a whole album after them. And IS is definitely a front-loaded effort: apart from the surging “I Am a Heart,” there’s nothing to match that magnificent opening trio. But there’s still plenty of goodies to be found on repeated listens, like the Amy Winehouse-esque “Change” or the coy, jazzy “Bicycle.” The band sounds less impressive, less immediate, when things slow down or when Ball yields the microphone to her vocally competent but unremarkable male bandmates. But so long as I get to hear her harmony vocals, I’m happy; and it must be said, the band does manage to cover a lot of emotional and stylistic ground without losing their focus.

If you knew about Hey Ocean! before reading his review, it’s likely that you came to them by way of an interest in Ashleigh Ball’s voice acting work. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t hesitate in calling her one of the finest female vocalists of her generation – her energy is positively infectious, you can almost hear the smile in every word she sings. But Hey Ocean! is a band, and IS an album, that deserve far wider exposure than the adult fandom of a children’s cartoon, however sizable that fandom and however delightful that cartoon. So give it a try – it might just make you want to make a new dance up.


Buy it here. Listen here.

[*]: I hereby refuse the term “Brony” and any and all associated connotations.

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