Sarah & Octopus have jazz chops and tons of ambition, and their complex pieces can wear you out with their car-crash meter shifts and wild leaps across the harmonic spectrum. Because the band’s vocal ideas can’t compete with their instrumental prowess, you get mixed bags like “La Reyna Oceana,” with singer-guitarist Mark Anthony Esquivel’s grating screams thankfully giving way to a riveting instrumental assault near the end.
The final three songs dial back the hyperactive intensity, and S&O’s music benefits from the breathing room. “Choir” suggests the moody power of Jeff Buckley’s best work, and “Film School” and “Wolves Dance Off Key in Dm” are nearly as strong.
“Wolves Dance” brings down the curtain with a hazy ballad that turns into an apeshit prog jam and settles back into oceanic tranquility. This track proves that while S&O might still be mastering the songwriting craft, they know plenty about tension and release.