No Fonder Feeling: Oceana & Polyenso
While most artists gradually change and progress throughout their careers, three musicians from St. Petersburg, Florida – Brennan Taulbee, Denny Agosto and Alex Schultz – have completely reinvented themselves several times between releases. What started off as a breakdown-heavy metalcore band named Oceana shifted to a dark post-hardcore sound then slowed down to indie-rock, and eventually changed their name to Polyenso to push themselves even further creatively into an experimental, trippy, electronicy-jazzy-indie sound.
To fully understand this progression, we need to start in the heyday of mid-2000s metalcore. In 2008, The Tide stood out to me amidst the deluge of breakdowns and high-pitched choruses on the Rise Records roster. Oceana rose above their peers with some unique guitar tones, time signatures and a brooding, atmospheric vibe that would continue onto their next release (even though the only current member who appeared on this album is guitarist Alex Schultz).
Birth.Eater is still one of my all-time favourite albums. I remember how polarizing it was to fans when it first came out – new vocalist, less screaming, and a much darker, sometimes slower sound. Nothing sounded like this at the time it was released in 2009 and nothing similar has come out since. The entire tone of the album is so unsettling, with lyrics dealing with the very serious (and controversial) topic of abortion. At various points, the lyrics take the point of view of the mother, father, child and doctor – featuring chilling lines like “I grew right next to your heart; I should have grabbed it and pulled it down” and “All of my heartless life I die; my voice will change when I start to smile; my mind gets eaten away, our children die”.
Probably the most dramatic evolution of their sound, Oceana went full indie-rock for 2010’s Clean Head EP. Again they used some unique guitar tones and timing but did a complete 180 with their lyrics, opting for a much more positive vibe (“Beauty holds a place for you in my head”, “Oh God, I feel it – no fonder feeling exists”). Like Birth.Eater, there hasn’t been many other similar-sounding releases since, and this sound has aged like a fine wine – it could come out today and still feel fresh and exciting.
Then out from the ashes of Oceana rose the majestic phoenix called Polyenso. I remember following the band members on social media at this stage and seeing clips of them in the studio, experimenting with different instruments and effects. I could tell these dudes were doing something special and the hype was rising to exponential levels.
Well, I wasn’t disappointed. With a new name, the band had a fresh start to try something new with 2013’s One Big Particular Loop. They took the indie vibes of Clean Head and brought them to a whole other level, adding extra layers of percussion, strings, trumpets, effects and electronic flourishes. This album has a fantastic flow from start to finish and every time I listen (which has been at least once a week since its release), I notice something new.
Polyenso continued to progress after One Big Particular Loop, again posting short little videos offering us a glimpse into their creative process, followed by 2015’s EP1. Here they began to broaden their influences, taking cues from hip hop and electronic music. Check out the music video for Best of Friends and look for a familiar face (hint: it’s me):
A year after EP1 the band dropped their second full-length as Polyenso, Pure in the Plastic. Again they pushed themselves creatively and brought in new elements to their sound. It’s clear these ten tracks were tinkered to perfection in the studio – little samples appear here and there, AutoTune and vocal effects are used tastefully, extra sound effects are integrated – and just like OBPL, I find something new to enjoy with every listen.
Most recently, the band has joined up with hip hop artist Crimson, who raps over a remix of Pure in the Plastic. It’s an interesting merging of musical styles that works surprisingly well. At this point I have no idea what the band will bless our ears with next but I’m hyped as hell to find out.