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Julie Ocean - Long Gone and Nearly There

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Artist: Julie Ocean

Album: Long Gone and Nearly There

Label: Transit of Venus

Review date: Jun. 3, 2008

"Julie Ocean", the Undertones song from which this this DC-based band takes its name, is an almost spectrally sensitive song, singer Feargal Sharkey's whispery tenor trembling over a subdued jangle of guitars. (There's a sublime, shirtless version of it here. It's not from the Undertones' Ramones-influenced, spiky punk-pop "Teen Age Kicks" era, but from their baroque pop stretch, so you might think that Long Gone and Nearly There would be a fragile, carefully orchestrated kind of record. You'd be wrong, actually, but then these guys have been misleading people that way for a while. Velocity Girl (for whom Julie Ocean guitarist Jim Spellman played drums) was named after a Primal Scream song, but try to find a hint of Primal Scream's hard-pulsing drone in Velocity Girl. Can't be done.

Still, any band named for an Undertones song, even a song on the less raucous, more sensitive third album Positive Touch, can hardly avoid power pop. The chiming guitars, the harmonized choruses, the double-claps, and the fractious calls and responses are practically built into Julie Ocean's DNA. And, no question, these are very good power pop songs, short and punchy and dizzyingly sweet.

Yet Julie Ocean knows that in all quality power pop, from the Flaming Groovies on down, you have to balance the scales. You need enough twists and regret to keep songs from turning sappy. If one guitarist spins out achingly pretty jangle-pop licks, the other has to crash through the power chords, as on album highlight "#1 Song." If the melody is almost too '60s-pop catchy, as "Here Comes Danny"'s is, you have to break it up with big drums and a silly call and response, with the second vocals demanding "Put the needle on the record" in answer to almost everything.

Drums are a make or break element of songs like these, and Julie Ocean is lucky to have Alex Daniels pushing from behind. Daniels has done time in hard-case bands like Swiz and Severin. His tumultuous beats ratchet up the tension in otherwise daydream-y pop nuggets like "Ten Lonely Words", "Ebb & Flow" and "Looking at Me/Looking at You."

Long Gone and Nearly There is really nothing but good clean guitar pop, well-done and not obviously derivative. It's a beach party, top down in the convertible, porch stoop on sunny evenings kind of record, not a lasting monument, but nothing to feel guilty about either.

By Jennifer Kelly

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