How is it possible that oceanfromtheblue isn't more well-known? His R&B sensibilities deserve recognition and praise. He doesn't overdo it with typical tropes meant to dance within trends. He has a gentle voice, one that isn't necessarily outrageously impressive. But it's musical, naturally melodic. He doesn't overburden the ear with melisma or attempt to outsing his peers. He's comfortable in the space he's in, and it works so well because his musicality is so sharp.
From the very first note he sings on Messages, he pulls you in. Simple, unfettered, unobtrusive, just pure, clear vocals and deceptively simple melody. The production on the album coupled with his crystalline vocal performance nestles this album next to some of the most well-known artists in Korea's R&B scene. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Crush.)
We can't talk about the album without mentioning his intelligent selection of features. Artists who compliment both his vocal styling and intelligent composition... Messages houses some of the realest R&B Korea has to offer. It's honest in scope and delivery. There's nothing feigned or forced here. Musicians with respect for their beloved genre bringing scope to it. "Talk !" is an unbelievable cut, harkening back to R&B form the mid-late '90s, when neo-soul was just beginning to accept its name. Acoustic elements and simple 808 constructions -- the tin-like sound giving the composition a nostalgic flavor, something sweet and earnest. MRSHLL and oceanfromtheblue's voices perfectly compliment the composition, the vocal layering absolutely divine in the space. MRSHLL's baritone dances a flawless and meticulous waltz with oceanfromtheblue's higher tenor.
With "Wings (Like Sisqo)," we get more of the R&B that people would expect from an artist from South Korea. Bass-heavy and pop-tinged at the edges. What sells it, however, is the vocal performances from oceanfromtheblue and Samuel Seo. Again, an intelligent choice. Seo adds smokiness, a darker edge to the bubbly R&B, adding a husky layer to the tightly packed harmonies that oceanfromtheblue plays in so flawlessly throughout the album.
I will say many of the songs tend to open on something ethereal only to blossom into typical tropey R&B fare. However, even within that, oceanfromtheblue saves every track from being too terribly predictable with his elegant vocal layering. Part of me believes he chose this route to avoid being pinned behind his more renowned peers who stick to that path. Probably also to avoid being labelled as "soft" R&B. Which is too bad because he's within his wheelhouse (and dominates it) when he errs on the side of wavy almost lethargic music. His music is moody, lushly blanketed in shadow, allowing listeners to sift through the haze to get to the true core of the music.
We get glimpses of that throughout Messages. The interlude of the same name hints at that moody blues: muffled harmonies run through a filter to allow them to sit softly in the background (as if attempting to avoid interrupting the speakers, or even acting as background noise to the conversation). But it's there, warm and curious. (I'm reminded of the "All My Life" interludes from Brandy's B7.) But the mood sets up the most haunting piece on the album: penultimate track, "For Myself." And it's obvious this was indeed a song crafted for oceanfromtheblue for himself. His moment to truly open up, soul exposed and heart riding the crest of the husky edge in his voice. I wish to think this is how the album ends. The actual final track, an English version of song "Tina" featuring BUMKEY, isn't much to write home about lyrically or musically. (The song itself riding a similar melodic track as Crush's "Whatever You Do" from his debut LP.)
What lingers in my mind is the ache and croon of oceanformblue and his ability to weave harmonies with the best of them. Though he does err on the side of tropey at times, Messages is a fine piece of music comparable to some of the genre's best, certainly its most well-known. So tell me again why oceanfromtheblue continues to fly so far under the radar?