THE SOUND OPTION WITH MARCUS HATHCOCK
#14 - Oceans of Synth-Pop
Are you missing the indie-synth-pop sounds of The Postal Service? Oceans Above has that and more...
 


There's a difference between synth-driven pop music and synth-accented indie pop. The former is the stuff of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, and the latter is the stuff of bands like Owl City and The Postal Service.
 
Mellow vocals and ambient – at times orchestral – synth strings, plucks and beats takes the creativity and ambivalence of indie music and marries it with the melodically interesting tones of synth music.
 
One of the pioneers of widespread, mainstream synth-pop was the short-lived supergroup of the early half of the 2000s, The Postal Service.
 
Fronted by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie–another popular mainstream band–The Postal Service's five years of operation yielded just one album, but a successful, critically acclaimed album just the same.
 
The album, 2003's Give Up, produced three singles–"Such Great Heights", "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" (which reached No. 3 on the U.S. dance charts), and "We Will Become Silhouettes" (which reached No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts and No. 7 overall in Canada). 
 
The band is said to be on "indefinite hiatus" after its two founding members–Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello–became consumed in other projects. 
 
"What people don't understand is that The Postal Service is not a band," Gibbard told BBC in 2011. "This was a thing we did for six months in 2001 and 2002. But I feel very fortunate that it took on such a life of its own."
 
The songs feature a gloominess dressed in upbeat tones. In the searching song, "Clark Gable," Gibbard sings: "I know you're wise beyond your years, but do you ever get the fear / That your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?" In "This Place is a Prison," a hopeless declaration resounds: "This place is a prison / And these people aren't your friends."
 
The group's most popular song, "We Will Become Silhouettes," seems to be about nuclear fallout, with the singer talking about how he needs to stay indoors with his cans of food and filtered water, because it will make his body "explode."
 
Many fans of The Postal Service likely have already discovered Adam Young and his widely known synth-pop outfit Owl City, which we highly recommend. Young, a Christian, has stated in multiple interviews that Jesus is the inspiration behind his creativity, and is the reason he does Owl City. 
 
So if you're not already tuned into Owl City, check them out. They offer the same sort of indie-synth-pop sound as The Postal Service, only better, and without the hidden gloom and hopelessness.
 
There's yet another group out there whom we recommend to fill that Postal Service void with the same electronic vibe and happy/melodic vocals. May we (re)introduce Oceans Above.
 
It seems Oceans Above was about four years ahead of its time. The group's one and only release–the self-titled Oceans Above–quietly emerged on the scene in 2007, presenting well-known worship songs (and a few originals) in a format peculiar to the average CCM listener. 
 
Songs like "Beautiful One", David Crowder's "O Praise Him", Keith Green's "O Lord You're Beautiful", Delirious' "Rain Down" and the classic hymn "In Christ Alone" dropped the worship band in favor of delicate synth tones and drum machines. Dramatic singing gave way to the soft, soothing vocals by Steve Suddith and Katie Herzig. 
 
Before there was Owl City and its dreamy synthscapes, Oceans Above had debuted the concept with worship songs. The Sparrow Records project never was considered to be a full-fledged band, according to the label, but an experimental concept album–much like The Postal Service. And like The Postal Service, Oceans Above just turned out a single album. The experiment, as it turns out, was ahead of its time, and four years later, we have yet to see a follow-up.
 
Fans of Owl City and The Postal Service won't hear a "dated" album. They'll hear the fresh synth-pop fusion they've come to love from Young. They'll see that this group achieved something that few artists in Christian music achieve: They didn't copy existing acts; they innovated, and saw the musical future. Audiences just weren't yet ready for it, sadly.
 

Although the band doesn't appear to exist after just one album, it's not too late to get a copy of Oceans Above. Head over to iTunes, Amazon, or Spotify and enjoy hearing an album that basically sounds like The Postal Service or Owl City leading worship. What a fresh concept!



MORE SOUND OPTIONS...

NRT Senior Editor Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and now Communications Director for East Hill Church in Gresham, OR. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at East Hill. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.

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