Release Date: Aug 25, 2017
Record label: Castle Face
With a band like Oh Sees (née Thee Oh Sees, née OCS, née many other variations of the name), you keep waiting for the inevitable dud to be dropped, especially with the prolific output the band has gained a reputation for. Orc marks the band’s 19th release in this project’s 20 year existence, and with it, comes another hyperbolic batch of praises and huzzahs. The record is an absolutely evil stunner from front to back, top to bottom, head to toes and everywhere in between, and whips up the same kind of radiant, strange awe that the band’s overdriven catalog has so generously perpetrated album after wicked album.
Despite a Whovian approach to nomenclature – they’ve been the Oh Sees, The Ohsees and Thee Oh Sees among many, many others – the one constant to Oh Sees and bandleader John Dwyer has been their evangelical fervour in the cause of gloriously deviant rock’n’roll. And so it goes with Orc, the band’s 19th album in as many years. Yet anyone expecting a straightforward thrill ride of buzz-saw nuggets is in for a kaleidoscopic wake-up call.
Oh Sees (they recently chopped off the ‘Thee’ because why not?) are nothing if not prolific. ‘ORC’ is their 19th album (under many names, most only just varying from each other) in their 20 years together. Yet, even as they celebrate two decades as the kings of America’s psych scene, they show no signs of becoming stale..
The West Coast psych rock veterans led by John Dwyer have hardly changing their modus operandi on their 19th album. Instead, they have refined and tweaked their mind-blowing sound thanks to plenty of touring. Their Field Day set earlier this summer was a great chance to hear these battle-hardened riffs, as the lockstep charge of Tim Hellman (bass) and drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone ably supported Dwyer as he shredded away.
Thee Oh Sees albums are a yearly treat. Not only are they an annual occurrence, but they also typically arrive no earlier than April. If you tend to find yourself in a mid-year slump, there.
It is often said of the psych and garage scenes that they are too inward-looking, too willing to stay within the familiar confines, similar bands playing similar music to a limited number of people. Over the 20 years since John Dwyer formed the band currently known as Oh Sees, they have often been lumped into the group of whom this could be said. Exceptionally proficient, passionate and exciting, yes, but each release close in form to the last.
For their 900th album, John Dwyer’s Oh Sees have dropped their Thee, but otherwise it’s business as usual. The double drummer thing’s really taken hold, ex-member singer Brigid Dawson returns (a bit), but mostly it’s the same wayfaring, psychotropic, absolutely batshit, driving sonic pummelling (with flourishes) you’ll have come to love and expect. So you get The Static God, which starts fast and gets faster still – a prime example of Oh Sees’ momentum and force driving itself along. Like a frenzied whirligig, the noise is lean, but always forward facing, with only Dwyer’s high-pitched shrieks giving the listener any kind of handrail.
Oh Sees? Thee Oh Sees? Orange County Sound? Oh, well. More recycled Roky Erickson-isms and smoky garage-rock riffs pollute the ears along with the most odious proggy lyrics this side of Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Ambivalent name changes aside, Orc, the band's latest offering, binges on Tolkien fantasy with exhaustive tracks such as "Drowned Beast" and "Cadaver Dog," the former featuring an attack on a monster by a hungry crowd— the sound of the apocalypse at a Magic: The Gathering tournament.
Oh Sees had hinted at making a concept album with the separate-but-connected construction of A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances, but nothing quite like the intergalactic mix that is their 19th record Orc. And, the best part about it is the Oh Sees manages to make this shift while still sounding like themselves, holding true with some killer bursts of distorted guitar and psychedelic reverb throughout. Filled with caricatured vocals, high-pitched guitar solos and spacey interludes, Orc is consistently mind-boggling and ear-tingling.