Vangelis – Oceanic

Oceanic is a collection of tone poems with Ocean themes. On this 1996 release, Vangelis creates a soothing 50 minute journey through deep oceanic spaces, sounding a bit like a Hearts of Space show. The new age music showcases his wonderful ear for melodies and lush synthetic orchestration, but does not have the edge or sense of experimentation that marks his best work.

The CD starts with the sounds of surf, which recur throughout the album. The first track, Bon Voyage, is a bombastic orchestral electronica track. This type of music is what Vangelis is best known for, beautiful melodies, lushly orchestrated with synthesizers. Bon Voyage is Vangelis at his grand melodic best.

Unfortunately, this fades into a snoozer, Sirens’ Whispering. Vangelis sets up a lazy drum machine/sequence and noodles aimlessly over it for eight minutes. He’s done music like this before, and it’s never been his strength. It lacks the edginess of pure ambient music, and arc and melody of his symphonic electronica pieces.

Dreams of Surf is a piano-based song that is moody and romantic. It and a later track, Memories of Blue, are both built around acoustic piano, and are two of the strongest tracks on the CD. Dreams of Surf fades into Spanish Harbour, which is built around a drum machine/sequence. Fortunately, the groove that Vangelis creates on this track sounds up-to-date. The track has a chill-out vibe to it, with sample-based Spanish guitar adding a interesting melody.

Islands of the Orient is an interesting piece of music, that combines Tangerine Dream-like sequences, chinoiserie melodies, and some jazzy playing. The blend is strange, but it works. The next cut, Fields of Coral is the most ambient of the tracks on Oceanic. It builds slowly over a sequence, adding instruments but never really taking off in any direction. The orchestration, which includes flute, harp, and pan-pipe -like sounds, is beautiful.

Aquatic Dance is built on a synth-bass ostinato. Synth vocals introduce a brief melody. Then Vangelis repeats the theme several times with variations. The orchestration draws on Vangelis thirty years of synth orchestration. He uses wonderful sounds on this track, including synth voices which are reminiscent of his very early work, and what sounds like Mellotron flute.

Memories of Blue is the highlight of the album. This piece recalls his wonderful Memories of Green, used in Blade Runner, using very similar arrangement, but exploring different moods. While Memories of Green seemed to reflect on the past with a sense of melancholy, Memories of Blue looks back with fondness.

Song of the Seas wraps up the CD with another mellow sequencer-based track. The music returns to the same sort of groove that Vangelis explored in Spanish Harbour. The music has a blissful feel and sums up the easy-going attitude of most of the album, and then fades out to the surf sounds that began the album.

The surf sounds and new age feel may put off some listeners that have heard too much of the lite instrumental songs that pass for new age music. The surf sounds have been used and abused by lite new age groups for 15 years, and some of the music on Oceanic tends toward the superficial gloss.

Vangelis, though, was using these effects years before they became routine, and still does it more effectively than others. If you listen closely, you’ll also hear a variety of synthesized ambient effects that evoke the ocean woven into the music. Some of his effects sound like whales, ships horns, porpoises, seagulls and even chimes at a beach house. His use of ambient effects is as masterful as his orchestration.

Oceanic is not Vangelis’ most challenging album, but will instead reward listeners with a relaxing sonic portrait of an abstract ocean voyage.

  1. Bon Voyage 2:33
  2. Siren’s Whispering 7:59
  3. Dreams Of Surf 2:43
  4. Spanish Harbour 6:42
  5. Islands Of The Orient 7:24
  6. Fields Of Coral 7:44
  7. Aquatic Dance 3:44
  8. Memories Of Blue 5:40
  9. Song Of The Seas 6:12

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