Oceanator mastermind Elise Okusami comes to Great American Music Hall

Songs from debut album, ‘Things I Never Said,’ are seriously dark and strangely hopeful

There is a general thematic arc throughout Oceanator’s stirring debut album, “Things I Never Said,” a power-pop masterpiece that arrived last year.

The record starts off with various doomsday scenarios, calamities that include a crack in the world, the sun never coming up and the sky falling down. But the album is strangely hopeful. When Oceanator mastermind Elise Okusami details these cataclysmic events, it is always in the context that she will survive and overcome — a mantra of resolve that culminates with the final track, “Sunshine,” a riff heavy rocker that ends with the reassuring coo of “I’m okay on my own.”

It’s a defiant and reassuring document of the times, but when Okusami was finishing up the album back in 2018, she had no idea just how much she would need to lean on that perspective to navigate a pandemic-riddled society.

“Even when I was writing the album, there was this sense in the air that things were going downhill,” said Okusami, whose band will open for two Jeff Rosenstock shows at the Great American Music Hall on Sunday and Monday. “I approached it from the perspective that things are terrible, but there is also a lot of good in the world. I didn’t quite appreciate how terrible things could get, but I still feel like you have to maintain that basic idea of hope.”

A talented multi-instrumentalist, Okusami has been playing in bands for years, at one time filling in as a drummer for a half dozen New York City-based groups, including Water, Dead Tooth and Kid Midnight. (“Everyone always needs a drummer,” she said.) While she first began writing songs back in 2012, it wasn’t until 2016 that she started to release music under the moniker Oceanator.

She issued two EPs before putting together “Things I Never Said,” which was originally set to be released by the North Carolina based label Tiny Engines. However, that imprint collapsed almost overnight, amid allegations of withheld artist royalties and other financial malfeasance. Okusami eventually self-released the album under her own label, Plastic Miracles, although she’s now signed with Polyvinyl, a venerable indie record outfit.

“Things I Never Said” has songs that date back to Okusami’s earliest writing days, but it feels cohesive and intentional, like the tracks were all produced in one manically industrious burst of creativity. Each song feels like the next chapter in a choose-your-own-adventure book, with the heroes and heroines of each tale navigating various obstacles of environmental disasters, shattered relationships and societal breakdowns, before eventually finding solace in each other against all odds.

While maintaining a clear lyrical narrative, Okusami weaves in an array of different genres, exploring synth pop (“I Will Find You”), neo blues (“The Sky is Falling”), surf rock (“Heartbeat”) and doo-wop (“Walk With You.”) Each track flows into the next, and even though the sonic terrain is eclectic, the trek through those variations is smooth and seamless.

Strong-willed perseverance and gritty persistence are the overall tenors of Oceanator songs, but Okusami is unafraid to tackle thornier subjects that don’t have clean resolutions. One such track is “Inhuman,” a heartbreakingly personal account of sexual assault that Okusami recently added to her live set. She said performing the song live has been unnerving, yet ultimately powerful.

“It’s pretty scary to share that song with people and have them hear those words,” said Okusami. “But I’ve gotten so much support and encouragement from my fans. People will come up to me after the shows and tell me how it really helped them, and that means so much to hear that kind of feedback.”

Even through a song with an unremittingly bleak and brutal subject matter, Okusami has managed to find a way to project hope and recovery. By tackling her demons, Okusami helps absorb and eat the pain of others, shining a light forward.

“I think it’s all about supporting each other through these tough times,” said Okusami. “If someone hears my music and feels a little better after, that’s a great feeling, especially right now.”


Oceanator with Jeff Rosenstock and Slaughter Beach, Dog

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19 and 7:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 20

Tickets: $20

Contact: (831) 704-7113, www.gamh.com

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