Over the Ocean’s “Paper House”

“The band undoubtedly operates with a religious agenda, and they’re not ashamed of it (this is probably the most crucial step in their success).” -BY

Beth Yeckley

out of 10

Over the Ocean
Paper House
September 25, 2010

Paper House is the evocative debut album of Over the Ocean. It is a thoughtful album, smartly crafted to achieve the purpose of the band, which as far as I can infer is to alter spirits and usher in a season when old minds become anew. On the first track, “To Hear the Spirit,” lead singer Jesse Hill poses a challenge, and even more an invitation: “Do you want to hear the Spirit, I want to hear it to0.” It sets the tone for the entire journey, which is both theological and spiritual … and compelling, musically.

The band undoubtedly operates with a religious agenda, and they’re not ashamed of it (this is probably the most crucial step in their success). If anything, listening to the album provides a wonderfully gratifying experience bathing in the recurring themes of redemption, grace, and intimacy with God. But beyond that, the range in tempos on Paper House really offers something for everyone. The songs are soulful, deliberate, and well-balanced in the realms of seriousness and lightness. Instrumentally, it’s engaging and rarely seems to repeat itself in melody or structure; while cohesive, the arrangements allow each instrument a time to lead listeners through the songs.

Hill’s vocals convey both a yearning and roaring fervency, equally balanced out over the album. The band is no stranger to John Mark McMillan, and I do have to note that sometimes Hill’s vocals due mirror John Mark’s, but this is far from a negative. He stretches his lyrics out, weaving together stories with a generally low and slightly guttural voice. He hits a surprising and refreshing height on “[untitled],” which is my favorite track (he also pulls off an unexpected falsetto on “While You’re Raising the Dead”). Less than a minute and half long, Hill’s voice and the guitar perform a duet, singing, “I will ask this one thing, to live in Your house, all my life … In my heart I hear You calling me, and I will answer to You.”

It’s tough to describe the album and do it justice—in some ways, it offers a very stripped down feel, but I think this is actually a byproduct of the humble nature these songs evoke. The lyrics are easy to grasp, but nonetheless compelling. There is an element of rawness, but the songs are intricate and carry wonderful details. “The Rich, the Poor” displays adroit work on the guitars, even creating effects that almost mimic the sound of birds (an image of gulls over the beach comes to mind). Songs like “Everything Will Change” are a great example of what the band is capable of, starting slow and ethereal and progressing into much faster riffs and drums, with near-screaming vocals (but don’t worry, you can still catch what he’s saying). This energy reappears in “Something I Was Not” and takes on an elevated shape in “I Will Be Silent,” which is another one of my favorite tracks. It has rumbling drums and wonderful, clean guitar interludes, which eventually flow together to create nearly a four minute jam, with Hill finishing off the album whispering, “It’s Your presence that brings the peace.”