“Oceanography” by Bray and The Dens

The fresh and individualistic is still out there – just be willing to look. If you give Bray and The Dens a chance, however, there’s no need to look further. Bray’s personal songwriting vision draws from a recognizable frame of reference, longtime music devotees will spot his influences, but he filters them through talents that transform those roots into something all his own. Bray’s new single “Oceanography” provides listeners with an outstanding example of that process.

Echoes of David Bowie’s later solo work, from the 1980s onward, are present throughout “Oceanography”. The differences, however, are crucial. Bray’s lyrical content is much more fully-formed, and direct, and contrasts concrete imagery with poetic flourishes to great effect. The balance between the specific and suggestive is one of the song lyrics’ greatest strengths. Another lies with his choices for imagery. Abbreviated lines such as “a cathedral of sighs” or “a needle drop” traverse the border between physicality and the general with great skill.

They become even more when delivered by his emotional, vulnerable voice. No one will mistake Bray for a pop song Pavarotti, but that is not his aim. Instead, his voice is more than serviceable and grasps the emotional ramifications of his writing in a way no other singer could. He responds quite well to the pacing change that comes at near the song’s mid-way point

BANDCAMP: https://bray.bandcamp.com/track/oceanography-single

The effect is cumulative rather than announcing itself in one fell swoop. We hear the song’s energy level beginning to simmer before it metamorphizes into a completely different animal around the middle of the track and Bray ably answers the change. It’s a measured change in his voice, however, a clear result of his growing experience fronting the band and the clarity of his artistic vision.

Andy Smooth’s synthesizer contributions reveal him as a superb complimentary player. “Oceanography” never veers into pure electronica, its pedigree is far closer to pure pop, but it is artsy pop rather than the lowest common denominator fare. The bright sheen characterizing the production brings each component fully to life and maintains an even-handed balance between the song’s individual strands.

It has a near perfect length. An almost four and a half minute running time doesn’t demand too much from listeners yet doesn’t give the composition short shrift. “Oceanography” ultimately comes across as a song arranged and performed with a clear idea of where Bray and The Dens wanted to take the track from the outset.

It makes for a listening experience that you will want to repeat. Calling this San Francisco-based artist a well-kept secret is a good way to describe his considerable impact. Songs such as this, however, go a long way toward ensuring that Bray and his cohorts won’t be a secret for much longer. “Oceanography” has all of the necessary elements for a track that doesn’t just please you once, on an initial listen, and then quickly recedes into memory. Instead, it has staying power and invites you to keep returning for more. You’ll be happy to do so.

Chadwick Easton


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