Named after a San Francisco landmark, Ocean Beach is the most coherent Red House Painters record, most of the tracks sharing a sombre and acoustic mood, more hopeful and less desperate than before. ‘Over My Head’ is so cheerful in its comfort that it’s hard to believe that it came from the same pen that wrote ‘Medicine Bottle’ just three years earlier. Musically it’s scaled down, more conventionally melodic and lacking the epic experimental tracks. Because of these factors, it’s a good place to start with the band’s catalogue.
The beautiful ‘Summer Dress’ is one of the group’s most perfect short songs, perfectly augmenting its elegant melody and simple arrangement with a viola part. ‘San Geronimo’ is a magical tale of adolescent remembrance (“Somewhere up fifteen miles/Sifting through crackling vinyl”), where the dirty guitar tone hardly detracts from the song’s inherent prettiness. A piano leads the simple ‘Shadows’, while the light hearted ‘Over My Head’ devolves into an enjoyable acoustic jam. The closing ‘Drop’ takes simplicity to an extreme, stretching out for nine minutes, sustained by the elegant melody and the emotion in Kozelek’s vocal.
Ocean Beach doesn’t have as many absolute highlights as Rollercoaster, but it’s better constructed as an album; while I play Rollercoaster more often, I tend to pick out individual songs to play, while when I listen to Ocean Beach, I play it right through.