Album Review: Deca – The Ocean

Deca The Ocean Album Cover Album Art Cover Art

Dreams are a topic of intense interest across cultures and across history, but in recent years, specifically since 2010, Inception has had a monopoly over how dreams are popularly discussed. With his new EP, The Ocean, Deca challenges that monopoly by reminding us of the inherently curious nature of dreams. Instead of encouraging us to analyze and “solve” dreams, Deca creates a space in which dreams and their peculiar details are simply pondered and discussed.

Deca creates this comfortable atmosphere through the music itself and through the structure of the EP. The interludes of the album are composed of excerpts from interviews Deca conducted with friends, family and strangers and they are pieced together in a way that corresponds to the adjacent songs. For instance, on the interlude “The Ocean” the interviewees collectively speak of being trapped in mazes, prisons and other confining places. On “Salome,” the song that precedes “The Ocean,” Deca speaks of a romantic relationship in which he comes to the realization that he feels suffocated. A similar correspondence takes place between the interlude “Tariq Abdul Hamid” and the album’s final track, “Sailboats and Trains.” On the latter, Deca takes Tariq’s call to raise awareness seriously and beckons us to “wake up the dead.”

Of course, the appeal of the album is more than structural. Deca has a vast vocabulary and he wields it with poise, effortlessly weaving together dizzying strings of internal rhymes like a manic Scrabble champion who addictively huffs DOOM lyrics. But beyond the style of Deca‘s rhymes,  his flare, his true talent when it comes to lyrics is his use of symbols. Deca‘s precise religiosity is opaque, but his allusions to biblical imagery are frequently vivid and sharp. On “Edenville” particularly, he concurrently celebrates a couple sitting under an apple tree and questions what exactly they are getting into. Though it might sound heretical to the devout, this kind of ambiguous take on Adam and Eve actually enriches their story. Rather than punishment, perhaps their experience was just the experience of life itself: exciting yet alarming, full of possibility yet empty of promise

The symbol that Deca  explores in the most detail is the ocean. Unlike just water itself as a symbol, the ocean has its own unique symbolic resonances, especially in terms of mystery, intrigue and terror. Throughout the album Deca variously taps into this symbolic reservoir, notably through sound. While none of the self-produced instrumentals can be described as tempestuous or nightmarish or even aquatic, Deca does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere of misery without having to resort to stock sounds like creaking doors, ghoulish laughs or gunshots. “Angel Butter” shows this dynamic in action: castigating the self-destructive tendencies of his younger self, he loops some sad keys with a very patient bass strum and a sharp drum kick to shame himself for formerly being so lost at sea. Similar affects play out on “Salome,” where a high octave piano sequence dances in the depths with soft hums as Deca realizes that he doesn’t have to keep every fish that gets caught in the mesh.

In the end, Deca compels us to think through our dreams – both the good ones and the bad ones – and reflect on what they tell us about ourselves and our relations to our selves. Additionally, he accomplishes this without the use of force. There are no “bangers” here. His thoughts on dreams and their potential float toward us like debris from a shipwreck; it is up to us whether or not to build a raft or to let them float on, a la Modest MouseThe Ocean can and will gladly make waves without us. You can purchase or stream the album here.

Incidentally, this is the best music video of the year.