Thee Oh Sees
, September 27th, 2012 10:09
Those musicians who write prolifically face the prospect of flooding their carefully carved niches with feckless underwritten, or overwritten filler. In almost all avenues of rock and pop music, churning out full length after full length with less than a year's breathing space between them, or arbitrarily, fewer than two global Kanye West incidents of arrogance between them, can be a hallmark of an outfit too keen to cash in. Whether they're too concerned with being forgotten or losing relevance, desperation yearns for that 'in vogue' stamp to save such acts from dollar bin obscurity.
There are of course, exceptions that prove the rule. Take Toronto's Fucked Up; the ravenous troupe of Punk Rock 101 students have belted out more 7"s, 12" EPs, split records and full lengths since their 2001 inception than you could shake a stick at. Their firebrand trail of Poison Idea guitar parts, Necros style boisterousness and Kelly Clarkson covers didn't hold them back though, It was all eaten up, and spurned those Canadians on to write grander, experimental, seemingly operatic new material.
California's Thee Oh Sees, part of the wider cast of America's garage-rock 'revivalution' that includes Ty Segall, Hunx & His Punx, The Black lips and others, are one of those proliferate bands who just can't seem to stop writing. They write and record as if the burden of their creativity compels them to fully tap their collective well of potential, and not to settle for anything less.
Their latest release on In The Red Records, Putrifiers II, blows into town with a psychedelic breeze of a first track. 'Wax Face' opens with a bent, manic, Animals type riff before frontman John Dwyer trips the switch with a reverb drenched yelp to let in a bandwagon of customary Thee Oh Sees instrumental clattering. Unlike on efforts past, Dwyer and his co-runner Brigid Dawson find more room to dove-tail, not just with each other's blanket like harmonies, but with the underlying propulsive guitar lines. Already this record feels more schematic than what came before it. Side A sounds like less of a rock and roll collage than much of Thee Oh Sees back catalogue.
'Hang A Picture' ushers in a new age of easy, breezy pop for the Frisco quintet. The folk-beat drum patterns are unashamedly pop centred, sitting beneath a campfire type sing-song chorus. Dawson's voice sounds spider-web thin at times: pitched high and slight, it's dichotomy with the angled, hooky guitar parts make for interesting listening. In some ways the relationship sounds out of kilter, but all the better for it.
The title track amalgamates much of the bands impressive back catalogue into one six minute missive. In a commanding tone, shot full of Lou Reed sharpness, Dwyer opens with: "Forever before I die / My guts are pockets underground / But I grow into a field / You lay upon me and slip away," - somewhat straddling the line between speech and song. A quick-stepping guitar line staggered between Dawson's ethereal, measured vocals carry the song for the next few minutes until what can only be described as sound effects courtesy of The Clangers spark a chaotic outro. The idiosyncrasies of old came pouring out for a good thirty seconds there, as if the meditative first four and a half minutes were a struggle to keep the crazy in it's cage.
The band's confidence and eagerness is still very much intact on Putrifiers II. The songwriting grants elbow room for the vocals to lead the way rather than the weirdness and crashing psychedelia of 2011's 'Castlemania' - a record that spread fidelity butter-thin across a canvas of Olivia Tremor Control and BJM folk and garage.
"I will strike an audience in the brain," said Dwyer of the band's carpet-bomb-like live shows, adding, "Maybe every now and then it would be okay if we relaxed a little." This thinking can be applied to the new record. Side B's 'Will We Be Scared' walks along in a valium daze, content beneath the sunshine lilt of Dwyer's 'La la la la's', completely detached from the the garage romp of Carrion Crawler's 'Contraption / Soul Desert' or 'Crushed Grass.' The penultimate track 'Goodbye Baby' even samples some bird-song towards the end, furthering my suspicion that this collection of songs would make a beautiful mid-morning, post second coffee album.
Putrifiers II is a more temperate beast. A coming-down of sorts from last night's five years worth of debauchery. Whilst the band have sidewinded away from much of the recorded blitzkrieg they're known for, you can't help but feel that this LP is merely another side of them, a chance to see the third and fourth strings to their bow.
For all we know, Putrifiers II could be the eye in the storm of The Oh Sees' career. A tranquil break in the thunder that reveals patches of sun-beaten 60s and 70s nostalgia before the clouds of noise envelop us again. Whichever way they're playing it, I'm onboard. I think of this band as one of the most consistently interesting musical projects of the last ten years, and this new material hasn't proven me otherwise.