Oak, False Memory Archive, 2018
Tracks: We, The Drowned (5:24), Claire De Lune (7:16), False Memory Archive (4:56), Lost Causes (8:30), Intermezzo (1:42), The Lights (10:34), These Are The Stars We’re Aiming For (4:19), Transparent Eyes (4:59), Psalm 51 (7:26)
[Edit: The original version of this review included a track listing with the wrong track order. I offer my sincerest apologies to the band and to our readers for this mistake.]
Have you ever found yourself so utterly satisfied by something in life that you find yourself feeling guilty for enjoying it? For me, that is Oak’s music. Their two albums are flawless. Every note. Every theme. Every lyric. Every wash of sound. Perfection.
2016’s Lighthouse blew me away. I’m not sure how much attention the band has received in more popular press (i.e., Prog magazine), but beyond Progarchy, the Dutch Progressive Rock Page (where I and Andy Read have promoted the group), Prog Sphere, and the Prog Mind, I haven’t seen the band covered all that much. That is a downright shame because this band has reached into a completely new level of brilliance.
Oak is prog in the vein of Pink Floyd’s, Riverside’s, Porcupine Tree’s, and Steven Wilson’s atmospheric and contemplative moments. Unlike those bands, Oak never abandon that overarching theme. Their new album, False Memory Archive, may start with a pounding drum intro reminiscent of the heavier moments in rock history, but that does not take the band away from their overall sound. Instead, it grounds them in rock, and it allows them to explore broad soundscapes. The band goes from quiet contemplative moments to heavy guitar driven rock in places all over the album. Throughout the first track, the heavy drumming seemingly contradicts the warm vocals and soothing piano and synth sounds, but when taken together it really doesn’t. The end result is a layered effect that allows the music to build gradually.
“Walls of sound” is a misleading description; washes of sound more aptly describes what Oak do best. In a watercolor painting, an artist will often layer colors through various washes of paint thinned by water and laid down on wet sections of paper. The desired effect emerges once the washes are completed. With Oak, the guitars, drums, bass, clean piano, synthesizers, and vocals all build on each other to create complex music. Some bands use “once in a generation” musicians to overstimulate the listener with musical brilliance. Oak use a collective approach that welcomes the listener in and encourages them to explore.
False Memory Archive is certainly a nuanced name for the album – one that will grow in meaning over the years as I continue to listen. Archive conjures up an interesting idea in my mind for how to approach this album. Archives are filled with paper (and these days, digital) records and rare books. Each archive is unique and complex, and they encourage intellectual exploration. This album is the same way. There is so much detail in the music that invites the listener to focus upon something new with each listen. Masterfully, the album achieves this without overwhelming the listener. The music is not cloudy or crowded. One may even call it sparse. Indeed, a superficial listening of Oak’s music might identify it as being sparse. Close listening identifies the collective complexity of the music.
The final track, “Psalm 51,” ends the album as beautifully as any album-closing song I’ve heard in recent years. The final minutes find the singing disappear, leaving behind gradually building instrumentation. The song doesn’t get noisier; it matures. One by one, new instruments add to the collective sound until the band reach a moment of perfection. If the entire album was just like this moment, it would lose its power. Rather, the band take you on a musical journey that impacts your emotions through sound. The song swells and releases at precisely the right moment. The album swells and releases at precisely the right moments.
The classical influences upon False Memory Archive are clear, even more so than in Lighthouse. “Clare de Lune” feature prominently in the interlude song, “Intermezzo,” while “Claire de Lune” on the album is the band’s own composition. The delicate piano throughout the album truly stands out. Progressive rock bands often choose to use distorted synth sounds instead of clean piano, and I think they do themselves a serious disservice. Oak’s use of piano gives this music a level of seriousness often lacking in many rock albums.
False Memory Archive is a worthy successor to the band’s first album. It even “cites” that album with a few lyrics and melodies, giving continuity to the band’s work. The albums flow together seamlessly, yet there is a natural progression in their sound. The band’s careful crafting of their music should be acknowledged and appreciated. Simply put, Oak’s music is beautiful in every regard. Every fan of progressive rock should be listening to them. They have too much talent to ignore.