Picture The Ocean— You Go Back To Being You and I’ll Go Back To Being Me…..
I first heard of these guys when they were working clubs and coffeehouses as Jesse Dee & Jacquie B. Their CD Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls came across my desk and made its way into my player and the ghosts filled not only walls but my ears and my head and I wrote a favorable review. They were mostly acoustic but drifted into the electric, they had an intriguing sense of what a song was, and they had that certain something I describe as indefinable— that something that makes you want to hear more though you can’t quite put a finger on a reason. I knew they had it because long after the review was submitted, the music haunted me on long walks and in grocery lines. Their songs popped into my head at the oddest moments and at the drop of a hat and would linger there until they were done with me and I could move on. Unknowingly, I soon became enamored with the band (for they were not a duo but four— a bona-fide band) and while listening to other albums I would hear a phrase or a small movement which reminded me of someone I, for the life of me, could not place. More often than not, it turned out that it was from a track from Ghosts. A couple of times it almost drove me insane because some music drives itself deep and when I am reminded of it I want to relive it, or maybe just know what it is. It is a burr under my saddle, if you will.
After a couple of months I put the band behind me, though I pulled the album out on occasion for the needed adrenaline rush when the music I was hearing did not do the job. Not unlike Zeppelin and Skynyrd freaks pulling out their albums for that shot of “Stairway” or “Free Bird”, I played “Wells”, longing to hear the choral refrain of “Chopping wood, chopping wood, chopping wood, chopping wood”, Jesse and Jacquie’s voices happily “building our very own Woodstock” and ending the refrain with a joyful “hey”. I wrapped myself in the warmth of “For the Moon”, a cello- and Wurlitzer-driven ballad of wonder. There were others. There still are, but this is not about that album. This is about the new one.
When I heard that a new album was coming out but not by Jesse Dee & Jacquie B but Picture The Ocean, I got anxious. I reject change. I hate it. Their formula was a good one, a solid one, and I always think fixing something not broken a stupid thing. I asked for and received the music files a bit before release and dove in. The surprise was that I dove in to the same pool. Jesse Dee & Jacquie B are pretty much Picture The Ocean. There was Jesse and there was Jacquie and there was even Matt Blackie, the drummer from the earlier album. Even Moses Greggplayed bass, so the band was intact. Only the name had changed. I settled in for the ride. Turns out it is a ride I would have really hated to to have missed.
There is a slight alternative rock feel to these guys which is hard to define, partially because of songwriting and partially because Jesse and Jacquie’s voices never really blend but work off of one another. Jesse’s guitar is what I would call open-ended, meaning that he relies on few electronic toys to get his sounds and prefers the straight guitar-to-amp sound. Jacquie is more of an instrumental presence in PTO, too, playing keyboards on most of the tracks— no flash, meaning that she plays mostly chords, but it is perfect for the sound and in fact makes it geometrically more pleasing. That full organ sound gives depth to what could be a sparse musicscape and which in fact is, when needed, and when she turns to electric piano and slightly synthesized sounds, she does it for an obvious reason. Blackie is perfection on drums, his riffs totally complimentary to each segment and measure, and Gregg proves himself a pro on bass.
Oh, to be able to sit with you and play this album in a relaxed atmosphere— with a cup of coffee or an ale and with no expectations of being anywhere else. That is what you need to really hear what this band does. It is not complicated and then again it is. The chord progressions are somewhat unique, the instruments layered beautifully and sound— oh, how I have come to love that sound! (Have you noticed how often I have used the words “sound” and “sounds”? I tried not to, honest, but the sound…..)
I know how much I sound like a PR person when I gush but this album makes me do it. The songwriting and arrangements are understated in their brilliance, the production adapted to the song of moment, the performance a study in ease (though you have to know how hard they worked to make it seem so). But you can make up your own mind. Their music is streaming below and on their bandcamp page. Go there. Pop a cold one and sit in your favorite chair and close your eyes. This is an album which just might strike you as hard as it strikes me.
An aside: I drove many miles to Portland, Oregon’s Alberta Street Pub just last week to see PTO live. It was worth every mile and the sleep I lost. If you get a chance to see them live, don’t miss it. I was floored. Now, go to their bandcamp page and listen. On second thought, maybe not now. Go there when you’re open to hearing something fresh. Happy listening. Oh, the title of this review is a line from Being Me, one of ten outstanding tracks on the album. And, yes, there are only ten.