When you listen to the debut album from Dark Ocean Colors – a duo of Scott Hunt and Mark Mikel form Toledo, Ohio – you’ll hear a stew of late ‘60s and early ‘70s influences, but you can’t quite put your finger on how they assimilate into the whole. There are the soaring harmonies of the Beach Boys, the soft psychedelica of late period Beatles, the power pop of a Raspberries or Todd Rundgren, the multi-layered pop-craft of a 5th Dimension. All of these sounds are evident on Dark Ocean Colors, but they often exist in the same song, making it hard to pinpoint the sonic touchstones that the group holds near and dear. In a sense, this is a good thing, as it makes for a slightly original spin on retro-infused sounds. However, the problem is that the band dips into the same levels of cheesy excess that a lot of the aforementioned acts succumbed to at one time or another. Overindulgence is the key word here, with lots of overwrought harmonizing and melodies torn from old records that rightfully should have been forgotten.
The lyrics are additionally tongue-in-cheek and delve into the absolutely ridiculous at times, or perhaps, were the product of taking too much brown acid. “Wrongly scorned by the unicorn / Who tears the clothes she adorns,” goes one line, and another offers “I’ve a sugar coated cotton candy and / What I’ve been looking for is right here in my hand”. So, yes, Dark Ocean Colors are remarkably twee and hippy-dippy, and your appreciation of the group will depend on how much of the cloying you can stand. There are some strong songs on the record, though. “Crashing the Sky” is a jangly number that could have been torn from the songbook of XTC. “She’s a Cornucopia” is pure pop sheen dressed up with soaring Mellotrons and Moog keyboard bursts. Overall, Dark Ocean Colors shows a group that is clearly infatuated with a particular period of American pop to the point of offering its own spin on recreations of that sound. It’s just too bad that the duo took the bad elements with the good, and tossed what makes golden oldies sound so great out with the bathwater.