Release Date: Nov 17, 2017
Record label: Castle Face
Thee Oh Sees are something of a household name when it comes to garage rock. The ever evolving outfit, commanded by steadfast captain John Dwyer, have been navigating their way through storming riffs and pummelling percussion for twenty years now. That whatever they do will be both thunderous and brilliant is more or less taken as a given. But anyone expecting more of the same should switch off now.
As if he weren't busy enough cranking out records with the Oh Sees, making weird electronic albums as Damaged Bug, and co-running the prolific Castle Face record label, John Dwyer needed another outlet for songs and sounds, so in 2017 he brought the OCS name back to life and released Memory of a Cut Off Head. OCS was the early incarnation of the Oh Sees, making lo-fi and experimental records before the band evolved into a garage punk juggernaut. Memory of a Cut Off Head doesn't revert back to the scruffy, sometimes off-putting sound of those early records; instead, Dwyer and co-conspirator Brigid Dawson take a step away from the pounding power of the Oh Sees in favor of something hazily psychedelic and expansive, a little bit folky and rustic, with every nook and cranny filled by a wide array of instruments meticulously arranged into something that would make the Incredible String Band sit up and take notice.
When Thee Oh Sees shed its longstanding lineup of musicians backing up frontman John Dwyer in 2013, there was cause for mourning. Though the project was and always will be Dwyer's brainchild, but the support he received from bassist Petey Dammit, drummer Mike Shoun, and keyboardist/backup vocalist Brigid Dawson was, ahem, instrumental to taking his songs to new levels, both in studio and live. Just watch any live video from the first few years of this decade, or the delightful medieval-dress-up they took part in for the 'Minotaur' music video, and see how well they play with each other, whether on stage or in front of a camera.
And such dedication and desire to create brings with it a welcome throwback to when the likes of The Beatles and The Stones were churning out heaps of A-class material year-on-year like nobody's business. A neat link, of course, given that Dwyer's past few outings, including this year's ever-exhilarating Orc, pay brilliant homage to the freewheeling, drug-indebted heyday of experimental pysch-rock, a genre that came to define the tumultuous latter years of the '60s before itself morphing into prog rock at the turn of the decade. OCS ' latest, Memory of a Cut Off Head, holds true to these ever-present psychedelic tendencies, but does such in much gentler fashion and knocks their recent all-guns-blazing formula on the head.
Cast your mind back to 1968. The threat of nuclear war loomed large. Immigration was a hot potato of political discourse. US athletes were castigated by the right-wing press for protesting racial inequality. Manchester City had a formidable football side. It's hard to imagine how different things ….