Oceanator | Nothing's Ever Fine | Polyvinyl

Review: Oceanator – Nothing’s Ever Fine

National Music Reviews

Nothing’s Ever Fine

Street: 04.08
Oceanator = Skunk Anansie + Jeff Rosenstock + Ocatavia E. Butler

Under the moniker Oceanator, Elise Okusami writes about the end of the world through the prism of mid-era ’90s rock in the second decade of the 21st century. Okusami is an avid science fiction reader, and her love of the genre is everywhere. The first line of science fiction writer N.K. Jemisin’s (a personal favorite of Okusami) short story Stone Hunger goes: “Once there was a girl who lived in a beautiful place full of beautiful people who made beautiful things. Then the world broke.” Okusami writes from this exact place.

Oceanator’s last album, Things I Never Said, dealt in an end-of-the-world vibe, with most songs written before COVID, George Floyd and, now, Vladimir Putin. Within the heavy clouds of the record, Okusami always seemed to find sunshine and hope. “Who knows if we’ll be here tomorrow,” she sings on “A Crack In The World.” She continues, “But everything, everything / Everything still matters you know.” Okusami even ended the record with a song called “Sunshine.”

On Nothing’s Ever Fine, Okusami gives us more of the same with more riffs. The album is more summer nights than nuclear winter, and Okusami writes the hell out of the songs. Early ’80s Bryan Adams would have killed for summer songs like “The Last Summer” and “Summer Rain.” Art Alexakis from Everclear would have murdered someone for a song like “Beach Days (Alive Again)” and The War On Drugs would sell their souls to have the pop sensibilities that Okusami seems to pour out so effortlessly.

“Playing CDs on the stereo / Flipping through stations on the radio / Another Saturday night and we’re doing alright.” Okusami sings on “Last Summer,” a track perfect for car radio. “American Graffiti ain’t got nothing on us / in our Honda Accord / Trying not to be bored.” Okusami tears up the midpoint of the track with a guitar frenzy solo that every summer song needs. “Beach Days (Alive Again)” does a lot of the same things with the similar energy of needing to escape. “Grab your towel get in the car / We’re headed out to Rockaway / It isn’t far / Sun shines, waves crash.” These songs are straight up delicious. 

The instrumental track “Morning” is a reminder of the record’s tone. It starts with a steady, repetitive synth line and bleeds into a rock crunch. While centering the science fiction dystopian landscapes that Okusami likes to return to. Okusami’s hollow, echo guitar sound plays over the top of the haunting “Nightmare Machine,” creating a comic book setting where “Nightmare machine fires up first thing in the morning when I wake up / Anything can happen / Don’t need a reason why.” The track “From The Van” also provides existential musings: “Am I still here?” And, “Am I still real?”

Okusami is great at remembering early/mid ’90s rock 101 and guitar rock fuzz with enough cracks that the angst gets in. The track “Stuck” moves with a slow down, pick up, stop,-start, The Breeders Cannonball pulse that if you close your eyes you will remember paid flannel shirts and chain wallets—a song about a generation that always felt anxious but could never explain why. “Woke up feeling I’m still waiting / For what I don’t know / But the feeling grows.”

The album’s stand-out track is a pop-rock, guitar-fueled burner about depression called “Bad Brain Daze.” Musically, the song sounds as if it was lifted off any track from Bruce Springsteen‘s Born To Run. “Bad Brain Daze” has a vicious sax solo in the middle and Max Weinberg–like drum runs throughout. At times, the track even drifts into a ska bounce. “When I try to think now / It’s like there’s so many thoughts I can’t even pull one out / Just one big cloud / Another bad brain day / Will I be ok?” Okusami makes a song about depressive thoughts 100% fire.

There is a ton to unpack with Oceanator. My suggestion is to unpack it all at once and let it crush you like a wave. Okusami is brilliant at delivering dark, deep, dystopian depression and letting the sunshine reach out and grab you. Shed winter and welcome spring; Nothing’s Ever Fine lets you do just that. –Russ Holsten

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