Submarine, the debut album from LA-based singer/songwriter Connor O’Shea, is full of potential. Each song tells a deeply intimate story of some aspect of social anxiety and the struggles of growing up. This is also evidenced by the album’s title, which refers to subconscious emotions that the album describes, rather than a vehicle meant for war or ocean exploration.
Though originally from Portland, Oregon, O’Shea studied history and music at USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. During his free time there, he worked on the songs that would eventually become Submarine, starting with lyrics and then crafting melodies and harmonies that fit. There are definitely moments when that method has worked incredibly well. Unfortunately, those moments are spread out quite a bit in the album. The ultimate result of deciding to write the songs in this manner is that much of the music feels forced and poorly thought out. Though the album has been described as experimental, implying a unique use of melody, chord structure and arrangement, it is actually the recording of a battle between moments of real magic and moments of trying to figure out what is going on. But there is a huge reward in sticking around for those moments of gold
For example, “Subtle and Disguised” has a remarkably beautiful melody as he sings about what appears to be a breakup. It reaches very close to the heights of Brian Wilson, which is to say, holy crap! The same goes for “Bread and Butter” which feels like the only thing missing is a backing band. There’s something there that just feels like it could be magic; possibly the Bee Gees-esque bridge. “Behind the Scenes at the Set of the Moon Landing” features a chaotic and honky saxophone solo that finishes out the song. The guitar solo in “Butterfly Cry” is perfectly executed, sitting comfortably in the song that surrounds it.
In the end, the problem with the record is that by writing the lyrics before having any real idea of what the melody would be, he’s created a possibly insignificant but mostly massive amount of trouble for himself. What we’re left with is an album that has remarkable potential and could be made perfect by a second draft with the help of a band. It’s a solid effort, but feels more like a collection of demos than a full, official release.
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