For a Canadian band, The Tea Party brings up some rather American connotations. The group’s name comes from the American Beat Generation writers’ (such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg) hash sessions. It also brings to mind the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party, inspired by those similarly-named protests by American colonists in the 1770s.
Despite this, the band’s newest record (its first since 2004) has its roots elsewhere. Written and recorded in Australia, The Ocean at the End shows that the hiatus between 2005 and 2011 has not tempered The Tea Party’s fondness for exotic Eastern sounds.
The optimistic opener The LoC effortlessly gallops with the spring of The Song Remains The Same and Achilles Last Stand (by Led Zeppelin, a band that the Tea Party is often compared to), backed with Jeff Martin’s bellowing vocal harmonies, exhilarating guitar licks and energetic drum fills that make good air drumming.
Listeners can feel the crashing waves on the gritty, waltzy single The Black Sea. It seamlessly oscillates between the soft, light verses and the dark, potent ‘the black black sea’ hook in the choruses before delectable guitar licks battle it out in the bridge.
Both The Maker and Black Roses are a reprieve following the bombastic, impending Cypher. They are a more uplifting, easier listen with subtle organ, lilting guitars, choir-like harmonies and an overall mood of wistfulness and melancholy.
This tranquility does not last long, as the expected eclectic percussion and whistles recreates the carnival atmosphere of Brazil. It then turns into a straight-up rocker, yet remains anchored by a unmistakable feverish pulse of the passionate South American country. The punchy yet eccentric rock of The 11th Hour recalls the quirkiness of Beauty and the Beast (the strange opener of Bowie’s Heroes LP). The industrial Submission pummels listeners into surrender with its catchy, almost-sing-song chorus and hypnotic, hard-edged synths reminiscent of Gary Numan’s Cars.
After the rowdy, hilarious The Cass Corridor (that references both Paris Hilton’s ‘that’s hot’ catchphrase and ‘skinny white boy(s)’ over country-tinged rock), Water’s On Fire starts off with some mundane, uninspiring verses. Before listeners ponder for too long over why this is a single, the stirring choruses and bridge bring the song to life.
The eight-minute epic title track is undeniably the emotional, musical highlight of the band’s eighth album. It innocuously begins with calming ocean waves, warm keyboards, delicate flutes and drum beats that strike with the consistency of a dripping tap. The song then erupts into a blistering inferno of noise that is a truly wondrous, immersive aural experience (especially on earphones), with electrifying guitar work and lively programmed synths. It then ends the way it began with the chilled sounds of the ocean, before seguing into the instrumental closer Into The Unknown. This marks an eerie finale, with even more horrifyingly beautiful synths that sound suspended in space. They are both otherworldly and earthly as they wail with almost-human emotion, before being abruptly cut off.
The Tea Party has made a powerful return to music with The Ocean at the End. Even twenty years on from its founding, it should be applauded for its strong musicianship that continues to provoke.