Ocean Levels: The Definition of Subjective

By Charlotte Steiger & Lily Hoveke

The vivid, bittersweet mix from Los Angeles’ Todd the Band is all of gleeful, poppy and sweet. Featuring the acoustic vocals of singer/songwriter Collin Colson, Ocean Levels plays out like a newly opened message in a bottle, sung out towards whoever might be listening. Alike our personal favorites on the new release – “Hard to Kill” and “It’s Not Fair” – the album sets disconnected verses to energetic, upbeat melodies as an attempt to make you feel right at home. A distinctive blend of soft rock weaved with catchy choruses, there is a strong uniqueness for each of the 11 tracks shown that add up towards one satisfying shine throughout each listen.

Album opener “The Dark Side of Adult” begins as a poppy expansion amongst the band’s discography. Themes of growing older become evident within this open cut. “You’re not you yet / You’re someone’s daughter,” he laments into the intro, with protagonist Allison giving reason towards the narrator’s young love. Or so, it’s revealed throughout that he’s really waiting to fall in love with her until they’re adults. The melody marks an attitude of optimism, bopping your head from side to side as the lyrics set the foundation for the remaining 10 songs left.

Instrumentally, “Heart Rate” establishes a solid Kohls feel: Tones riddled with soft guitars, classic drums, and a bridge catchy enough to press repeat. Plenty of listeners will read off the lyrics as random. But to my own listening, I got the impression of a post Allison worldview. As time goes by, he’s still in love with her. It’s centered around the old platonic lover, intertwined with abstract lyrics of ocean imagery. “You look different and I’m still missing” seems to hint at this growing-of-age romance.

“Hard to Kill” is more than its funky beat and optimistic melody. This third track plunges into new areas of infatuation and finds a new way of looking at love. The imagery from this as outstanding as its message. A resiliently tough protagonist, sprinkled with lyrics of the contrary. “She told me that we’ll catch up soon / And we both believed that” he sings. The narrator seems to have met someone at the brink of self destruction. On this lyrical beach comes the woman who wishes she didn’t feel this way, aside the ones affected. “She says join the club / Grab a boulder and sink / Down / Meet me there” he describes. “We’ll catch up soon.”

Contrary to popular belief, “Foreign Object” was not one of my favorites off the album. A metaphor for the consequences of bad press, its overpowering yet zippy beat gives the impression that the singer is trying to overcome this inevitable force within the music industry. Big picture wise, he’s trying his best to face it. Ambiguous lyrics like “Return home, prep for attack / It took stepping away to turn back” shows his needed break in the midst of frustration, mentally preparing himself for more. 

“I’ve Got Nothing” appears to be a song about running away from problems, exhausted from it all. “I’ve got nothing” both as a lyric and title express the desperation of not knowing what to say or what to do when faced with confrontation. Furthermore, the narrator talks himself out of quitting music due to a lack of inspiration. “There’s gotta be more than this / And if there isn’t / Then I’ve got nothing / No more ideas.” References of minimum wage jobs help to get his point across that this track is one of few within the album that include a somber message, like the next.

“California Brown” is about yearning for someone that isn’t planning on sticking around. “And while it’s always you I’m yearning for / I doubt you’ll return in human form / And while I see your body leaving us / I know all of you won’t leave at once” perfectly encapsulates this feeling. The singer views himself as unique for the smaller town, but upon moving to the larger California, he would become as similar as everyone else there. Despite the tone of hopelessness riddled around the lyrics, the song itself has a catchy chorus and fun beat that hide its true meaning if the listener isn’t diving too deep into what he’s saying.  

Personal favorite “It’s Not Fair” talks about the pains of unrequited love and the lengths a person is willing to go to impress the person of their affection. After enough attempts trying to impress, and realizing that they don’t feel the same, the narrator realizes that they were treated unfairly (hence the title). Instrumentally, the track is nothing short of tuneful trumpets and melodious keys. Lyrically, the song could be interpreted as being led on, and feeling humiliated by the results. It could also be translated into a message about miscommunication within romantic relationships, but the lyrics are too ambiguous to decipher. 

“Lied To” feels like a continuation of the themes expressed in the previous track. The unique sound of bombarded waltz piano played throughout almost distracts from the message of the entire song. The narrator, throughout the track, is begging for honesty and asking someone to let him know where they stand. It’s a relatable feeling of seeking honesty, especially when that trait can help people know how to better move on. The outro, however, is a surprising shift from helplessness to the admission of the narrator being in charge of his own fate. Despite everything going on, he still is capable of making the decisions to take his life in the direction he chooses, rather than being dragged against his will. 

9th track “Let’s Go Hunting” uses extensive metaphors to talk about the lack of direction that many young adults can feel as they grow up. Lyrics like “Devoid of calories / When was the last time I ran” compares hunting to exploring the world on your own. A catchy, campfire beat helps to interpret the highs and lows of getting thrown into adulthood without a further thought (especially once a person’s worldview becomes jaded due to a degrading life experience). “Who’s wrong, who did this?” he asks himself. “I am.”

“Capacity” is the song that most reflects what being a human is all about. As people, we need to let go of what weighs us down in order to successfully overcome adversity. “And I want to find truth / But it’s less of a hunt and it’s more of a setting free” explores the passage of time and how it connects life experiences to a myriad of emotions that compliment humanity. This coming-of-age essence traces back his feelings towards learning when to let go when need be, highlighting themes of gratitude as the album starts to complete its final cycle. 

Outro “Tinted Brown” is a song exuding acceptance and being content with moving forward. Nostalgic lyrics like “You’re starting to act / A bit more like your father” demonstrates his gratitude for growing up. Throughout the album closer, the narrator learns to convey his emotions in a healthier manner, not being as envious of his peers as he used to be. Rather than reminiscing too hard on those past mistakes, he states that “I’m glad I feel bad about the things I allow,” revealing that the guilt and negativity he now feels are reserved only for the events that truly deserve it. A big sign of maturity that many people are faced with is when and how to deal with guilt from the past, and he appears ready to move on from it. The album ends with him repeating “I’m glad I’m not a kid no more,” proving that he’s just about grown up by now.

Ocean Levels reveals the harsh realities of getting older, using oceanic imagery to paint the picture of a personal dilemma between yearning and acceptance. Although this album is tinged with emotional upbringings and folk undertones, it would’ve flowed much better had the lyrics been less confusing to decipher and more connective than random. The melody, on the contrary, is the definition of subjective. The sound to each track gives off the impression that they’re childlike, amplifying his theme of growing up. In order to fully immerse himself into nostalgia, Colson matched these playful chorus’ to maturing messages to target towards those who can empathize with the lyrics. The execution of the overall theme was the biggest reason why I would rate it higher. It was also a nice touch to have the “coming of age” tracks more towards the beginning and the songs embracing gratitude towards the end to exhibit the personification of his adulthood, rather than them being in random order (unless all musicians already do this. Ignorance is bliss).

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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