WHEN LANE BARRINGTON started putting together new material for the Ocean Floor two years ago, he wasn't sure where the songs would end up. "I started these songs saying, 'This doesn't have to be the Ocean Floor,'" Barrington says. "And eventually the ideas repeated themselves, and I was like, well this is what I kind of want to do; I don't want to play acoustic guitar, which is what I had always done in the Ocean Floor—it had been more quiet, acoustic, folk oriented. So I basically presented it to everybody, saying, 'Do you want this to be something we do?'"
Violinist Shannon Rose Steele and clarinetist Holland Andrews were immediately on board. The band—now a five-piece, rounded out by upright bassist William Wienert and new drummer Patrick Barrett—took Barrington's new compositions to task, transforming them into stunningly intricate, unpredictable collages of skewed pop.
Barrington, previously the drummer for Hosannas, would begin with a partial drumbeat recorded quietly at home. Then he'd make a loop, process it, and add some electronics or distortion before coming up with basic chords for the song. He and his bandmates would devise complex vocal harmonies before lyrics were even written. The result is that the Ocean Floor's new album, Falling Star Castle, is a unique and remarkable listen that's entirely un-harnessed from folk and rock conventions. The band's influences range from Dirty Projectors to Debussy, but they're almost beside the point; Falling Star Castle is a whirligig of an album that contains nearly endless complexity—pop music as a collection of puzzle pieces, in which each strand is wholly realized but, when combined, makes up an indelible and unpredictable picture.
The album does contain a vague plot, but as Barrington says, "It's not a story that we really want to explain that much, or that we all even understand, because it's better sung than said. But it does have a character that starts from the beginning and goes to the end."
What's less elusive is the record's clarity and range, from the whirring clatter on opening song "Big Screen TV," to the galloping groove of the title track, to the lush orchestrics of "The Night You Were Born," for which Steele and Barrington contributed an elaborate string arrangement. "There was a lot more room for that kind of thing on this album than on previous ones," says Steele.
With Barrington the lone constant since beginning the Ocean Floor over a decade ago, the group has sometimes been slotted in between the other band members' projects; Steele recently completed a tour with Typhoon, while Andrews plays in AU and Like a Villain.
Barrington says, "Every few months, I'm like, 'Holland, do you really want to be in this band? I'm giving you the chance to quit. You have so many other great things, you're in these two other bands, you're so busy.'"
"I love this band," responds Andrews. "I remember when I first saw Lane and Shannon play, I was really overwhelmed with how creative and talented they were. I was totally blown away. I didn't think that I had the chops to come up against these guys."
"Which is hilarious," says Steele.
"It's an absurd thought now," adds Barrington.
Andrews says, "Being in this band has really pushed me to become a better player and to really expand my mind in ways that I normally wouldn't with any other projects that I have."