One of my personal obsessions is the history of shoegaze on the North American continent. As the British Press was attempting to destroy the genre in Britain around the mid to late 90’s, musicians in the United States were picking up on the genre’s flavor, especially bands like The Emerald Down in the pacific northwest, Airiel in Chicago, Asobi Seksu in New York, Highspire in Philadelphia and many others across the country. Few predate the year 2000 in terms of releases. Sometimes a gem or two comes out of the woodwork and Ozean, a California band from the early 90’s, is one of the earliest North American shoegaze bands I’ve encountered so far. The only surviving tracks are three from a demo they released on cassette in 1993. The recordings took place in 1992. The band consisted of Lisa Baer (vox), Mike Prosenko (Guitar), Eric Shea (Guitar), and Mark Baldwin (Drums, Bass).
The first song on the EP is entitled “Fall”. The feel of this track is later Slowdive or more advanced Ride. They clearly only had access to Lush’s Scar, Slowdive’s Just for a Day, and Ride’s Nowhere, as well as many of the post-punk bands that would be seen as influences of shoegaze like Jesus and the Mary Chain. This band was ahead of the curve here and should be considered one of the progenitors of the genre given their place in its history. It’s unfortunate that they broke up so quickly and only produced this three-song cassette. “Fall” begins with shimmering guitar work and Baer’s ethereal vocals. Baldwin’s bass and drum work are clearly influenced by New Order’s Hooky and I mean that as a compliment. The sound accents the overall feel of the band so well. “Porcelain” is the second track on the EP and ups the ante on the ethereal vocals. The guitars are fuzzed out with layers and layers of reverb. It’s a dreamy composition with an almost ambient vibe because of the formless guitar work. Prosenko and Shea really outdo themselves here with the effects. It’s impressive, especially given the era in which they did it. “SCENIC” concludes the EP with bright, blissed-out guitars floating over a guitar-driven melody. Reverb heavy vocals drift over the beautiful bass-line while subtle percussion moves the wall of sound forward, giving it structure. This is Souvlaki-era sounding before that album was even out to be heard.
To say that I’m impressed would be an understatement. This little EP should be in every Shoegaze lover’s library. Ozean were ahead of their time and I’m excited that they released this little gem to the public. Now if some label would step up and press this thing on vinyl, that would be great because, in many ways, it would be a move toward preserving a small but important piece of the history of the genre. They do have downloads for sale which are meant to support a vinyl pressing. Let’s hope they get enough funds to do so.