Soft ballads of reverie
Tori Amos’s Ocean to Ocean is a gentle collection of sounds that ring with authenticity, vulnerability and longevity. Amos explores personal themes of strife and pain, finding ways to not only get past them but amend them into music.
“Addition of Light Divided” welcomes listeners to Amos’s world, filled with serene piano keys, wanderlust-filled guitar strums, elevated strings and smooth vibrato vocals. Themes of the “broken” and the act of “breaking” are manipulated through wordplay, shifting the connotation of feeling “broken” to a positive transition of “break[ing] this chain of pain.”
Amos explores grief on “Speaking With Trees,” a touching song that channels a hefty electric guitar. The use of the electric guitar seems to speak for itself, ringing with a dynamic echo over Amos’s elegant vocals, perhaps as a representation of the rigorous plight of getting through loss. While there are different ways of dealing with loss, with some turning to vices, some turning to substances, some turning to friends and some shutting them out completely, Amos copes by falling upon nature. The song personifies Nature as a separate entity, taking the form of a guardian. Nature is “grieving with me,” as Amos hides her loved one’s ashes “under the tree house,” which Nature “will protect… of this I am sure.” The closing verse of the song is particularly hitting: “Feel their arms around you, feel their arms around me.” Despite loss, Amos is still able to hold a shared experience with her loved one, transcending societal regularities and having faith in the universal sentiment of Nature.
“Swim to New York State” shifts with swift movement and emotion, with sliding strings and themes similar to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” Amos would take the plunge and “swim to New York State” to spend a day with the person she’s missing. Amos dives deeper into a storytelling role on “Spies,” a track that feels like a fairy tale to tell kids before bedtime. Amos creates a world of safety and reassurance with her concept of spies that keep watch and guard over us, similar to the guardian-esque archetype of Nature in “Speaking With Trees.” On top of an ethereal synth that sets the song’s fantasied tone, Amos’s vocal delivery is sweet and elegant. Particularly, her delivery of the word “spies” adds a certain spice to the song, ringing with softness and care.
The title track, “Ocean to Ocean,” echoes with thematic depths of water. Kick drums sound submerged, and a droning synth reverberates like a whale call. The title seems to take dual meanings; it’s a warning of the dangers that face our world but also a reminder that on the same scale, goodness can span from ocean to ocean. Amos calls out the selfish behavior of people and their desire for gain at the expense of our world. As she expresses these themes, a deep bass strums with a sentiment of pessimism but is immediately followed with gentle keys that ring with optimism as Amos reassures listeners that “There is a way out of this.”
“Metal Water Wood” channels frolicking keys and lush vocals with the poetic lyricism of three opposing substances, metal, water and wood, converging towards one unified body. “29 Years” takes on a gritty feel, with sliding guitar riffs, faint vocals and culturally rich references to folklore and mythological characters. Similar to the withstanding influence of these characters, which have been ingrained in our history and culture, Amos explores the gradual process of searching for peace, remedying and breaking away from pains and burdens. “How Glass Is Made” is sleek and smooth, lyrically vulnerable and thematically attuned with the slow, translucent process of transitioning sand to glass. “Birthday Baby” closes the album with sultry strings and densely packed keys, which come together to form a swift groove as Amos reassures listeners, “Don’t be afraid to tango alone.”
The melodies of Ocean to Ocean, mixed with themes ranging from grief to finding peace, serve as a reminder of the potential to find a balance with the gentler sides of life. The project rings with the rich ambiance of gentle instruments and Amos’s delicate vocals upon a heavy dose of storytelling through lyricism—a skill that Amos thrives on, turning the project into a cohesive collection of adventure and self-exploration.