.Blue Ocean’s Cosmic Sea of Sound

The ebb and flow of the creative impulse

Blue Ocean’s debut album, Fertile State, is comprised of 12 densely packed tunes that combine elements of shoegaze, punk rock and experimental electronic music. “When we were making this record, we used more live drums and synthesizers, wanting to explore different glitchy noises and sounds,” said Rick Altieri, who played bass, percussion and synthesizers on the set.

“It’s a continuation of our previous work,” said Altieri, who, along with main vocalist and guitarist Dave Stringi, recorded in a backyard Oakland studio. Stringi owned several 8-track reel-to-reel tape machines, and together they had amassed a collection of instruments and audio processing equipment.

“We try to do everything outside of the computer, layering as many sounds as we can onto the 8-track,” Altieri said. “It’s all played live. Eventually, we dump that into the computer and keep going, adding stuff, and cutting and editing. Then we mix it all down on the computer to get the final result.”

Both members bring their own ideas to the table, but every song is finished in a collaborative way. They record voice memos, or partial demos, at their individual homes, then get together to exchange suggestions on how to arrange and finish the song. They both write lyrics and sing, but Altieri said they view the vocals as another instrument, one more element in their overall sound.

“I don’t love it when the vocals don’t jell with the music, when they float on top of the mix, disconnected from the rest of the tune,” Altieri said. “Our lyrics are pretty abstract and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. We prefer to let the listeners come to their own conclusions about the meaning of the songs.”

The songs on Fertile State are abstract, moody pieces with a gentle, insistent pulse. “Ion Drift” opens with spacey, sustained synth chords and low rumbling percussive sounds that support a dreamy, mixed-down guitar melody.

“Present” is a mellow ambient tune, with a catchy bass hook, wistful washes of synth and an aching, despondent vocal. The title track is a punk-rock tune with a poignant melody. It was recorded in a hushed tone that allows the vocal tagline—“Hold on to the silence”—to occasionally surface, wrapped in high, wordless, backing harmonies.

Altieri and Stringi recorded the album more than a year ago, but the Covid shutdown delayed its release until last October. While they were on hold, Altieri and Stringi signed up Neil Donovan, their live-show drummer, as a third partner. The trio recorded another collection, Nova Jive.

“We all worked on the music and arrangements together,” Altieri said. “It will be our last album, since Dave is leaving to go back to Boston and spend time with his family.”

Altieri and Stringi have collaborated since their high school days in Boston. “I took piano lessons when I was younger, but I wasn’t interested in learning,” Altieri said. “I started getting intense when I discovered the drum sounds programmed into the Yamaha keyboard I practiced on. After I met Dave, we talked about starting a band.”

The duo put together Puke—a fast, loud punk band—when they were in college. They released a few cassettes, but broke up when Altieri moved to Oakland after graduation. Stringi followed several years later.

“I worked random day jobs and played drums and bass in a bunch of bands along the way,” Altieri said. “When Dave came out, we started recalling all the experimental music shows we went to. I was into drum machines and synthesizers. He was into noise.”

Now that Stringi has moved back to Boston, Altieri is continuing on his own, using his work with Blue Ocean as the foundation of his sound. The new project is called Above Me, a collaboration with his wife, who plays keys and bass, and sings backing vocals.

The vocals are still mixed down and obscure, but the music is more funky, with a hint of R&B in the melodies. Altieri’s planning to release a few singles and videos from Above Me, after Blue Ocean’s last album, Nova Jive, debuts in June.

Listen to or buy ‘Fertile State’ on Blue Ocean’s Bandcamp page: blueoceanmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fertile-state. The album is also available at: slumberlandrecords.com/catalog/show/368.


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