I always worry about bands and artists from bygone days who release comeback records after 10 or more years (let’s just say I breathed a sigh of relief with David Bowie’s latest). Likewise, when I found out Pennsylvania-based New Wave band The Ocean Blue was releasing Ultramarine, their first full-length studio recording since 1999, I was a bit apprehensive. Would it measure up to their amazing material that won them a solid cult following during their heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s? Or would it be a sad attempt from a prior-era band to recapture relevance in the modern day?
Thankfully, within a few minutes of listening to Ultramarine, all my apprehensions were laid to rest. This record doesn’t just measure up to their better work—it is actually among their best work to date. So much so that it leads us to wonder where The Ocean Blue have been all these years.
To be sure, this is a highly talented group of veteran musicians, and that has a lot to do with why the record is so good—but I also think that in terms of musical styles and trends, this was the best possible time for this band to come back on the scene. This is not a reinvention, not at all—long time fans will easily recognize the band’s signature jangly guitars and airy synths, underlying David Schelzel’s consistently forlorn vocals. But as fate would have it, The Ocean Blue’s melancholy melodic pop sound is a perfect fit among the retro-tinged indie vibe of the modern day. In a very real sense, what was old is new again. So I don’t see Ultramarine as just appealing to the band’s existing collective of loyal fans; I can easily see it attracting new listeners from fans of Beach House, The Raveonettes, DIIV, and other bands that sport chill indie-pop. From the 80s New Wave of “Sad Night, Where Is Morning?” to the jangly guitar swing of “Blow My Mind” to the haunting “Sunset – Moonrise,” this record fits right in.
And so I breathe another huge sigh of relief—but more than that. I’m genuinely excited about this album, and what it could mean for The Ocean Blue in days to come. While preserving the signature sounds of the band, Ultramarine is far too current to be considered simply a “comeback” album. It’s like they never missed a beat.