Oceanography’s debut full-length album Collier Canyon is named after a winding road in the hills outside of Livermore, CA, the Bay Area suburb where the band’s primary member Brian Kelly grew up and where he returned to live. “I had planned on moving to LA, but then everything took a turn for the worse,” Kelly says. “First I was laid off from my job, then my girlfriend (and bandmate) broke up with me. So instead, in my mid-30s, I moved back in with my mom. It was a depressing situation. When I needed to clear my head, I'd take a drive in the hills outside of town."
It was during this extended return to his mom’s house that Kelly wrote and recorded much of Collier Canyon – a meticulously crafted indie rock meditation on loss and nostalgia, fueled by an extended stint of confinement in his childhood hometown. On “Rainbow Records”, Kelly wistfully remembers the mixtapes and record stores of his suburban youth: “I pull out your old Maxell tapes and play some radio songs… I remember you in ’84 knocking it around to Purple Rain in the record store.” On the title track, Kelly describes a memory from the final days of a past relationship. With yelped vocals and layered, angular guitar lines that recall some of the most acclaimed bands of the aughts like The National, Grizzly Bear, and LCD Soundsystem, the songs themselves even seem to yearn for something recently lost.
While Kelly recorded much of Collier Canyon at his mom’s house in Livermore, he added finishing touches at 25th Street Recording – a world-class recording studio in Oakland. The finished album blends the intimacy of a home recording with the pristine clarity of a big-budget project. This sonic aesthetic mirrors the emotional conflict at the center of the album. There is a claustrophobic melancholy looming just beneath the orderly exterior of these songs and their narrators. In this way, Collier Canyon is reminiscent of a collection of Raymond Carver stories. On "Bow Ribbons", when Kelly sings, “While the trains may run on time, my loose ends remain untied,” he could be speaking for any suburban commuter in America, nursing hidden pain while still managing to make it to work each morning.
While Oceanography’s first two EPs made a splash in the SF Bay Area – with The Bay Bridged naming the song “Reggie Jackson” one of the best tracks of 2012 – Collier Canyon is a bold artistic statement that could boost the band’s recognition on a national scale. With a short story writer’s eye for detail, Oceanography’s Brian Kelly is skillfully carrying the torch for a strain of ambitious, guitar-driven indie rock that has been sorely missed in the past decade.