Release Date: Aug 12, 2016
Record label: Castle Face
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
The Thee Oh Sees of today are, sonically, a stitched-together Frankenstein’s monster of the band that came and conquered record after record with stellar releases like Help and Carrion Crawler/The Dream. A few months after initially announcing their 2013 hiatus, the garage outfit returned from beyond the Floating Coffin with new members and a renewed appetite for wilder, weirder sounds. Armed with dual-drummers Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon along with bass player Tim Hellman, Thee Oh Sees push their normal cartoonishly unhinged garage punk into new krautrock-inspired levels of madness on A Weird Exits.
It's been nearly 20 years of fuzz and frenzied freak-outs and relentlessly energetic live shows, but Thee Oh Sees continue to bring it, hard. A Weird Exits (an awkward and wonderfully odd title) is the 11th LP from garage-psych savant John Dwyer and his fellow Seers, and this one may be the most proper representation of their live shows and tendency to groove out that they've set loose into the world to date. Starting off with that familiar ferocity, "Dead Man's Gun" finds Dwyer's vocals switching from a sweet, almost hesitant delivery to a definitive growl atop drums and guitars that mimic the switch, breaking to allow a quick mind melt from Dwyer's guitar.
Thee Oh Sees are less a band, more an ever-evolving concept. With nine albums already under their belt, and a further seven released under earlier variations (and that’s before we even start to look at the various side projects associated with their rotating membership), the group are a force to be reckoned with. At the centre of this universe sits John Dwyer, with a prolific restlessness that continuously drives the band to brand new heights.
John Dwyer’s San Fran garage-rockers Thee Oh Sees have a reputation for being a pitbull of a live band – biting, muscular, a little deranged – which has turned them into a cult property among the cotton bag-carrying indie massive. They’ve had enough lineup changes to rival Kiss and have released more albums than most people have on their shelves these days – 23 full-length releases in various incarnations since 2003. But this, Thee Oh Sees’ 11th studio album, is testament to how the band is ever-evolving, swirling around Dwyer, its one barking constant.
There are few more reliably exhilarating sounds in contemporary garage rock than this: John Dwyer's indecipherable vocal delivery steeps in intensity, as does his echo-heavy guitar licks, there's a vicious halt in the rhythm section for a split second before his band of garage-dwelling oddballs launch into a scorching psychedelic hotbed of distortion, feedback and utter, utter otherworldliness. It's a formula that will send a crowd into absolute frenzy anywhere in the world, and is perhaps best utilised here, on their eleventh studio record as Thee Oh Sees. It's the first Thee Oh Sees record to put to tape the relentless rhythms section of drumming duo Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon and bassist Tim Hellman, and thus its breakneck speed grooves manifest themselves even deeper than the band have managed before.
Hot on the heels of a live album that captured them in all their sweaty glory, thee ever-prolific Oh Sees returned in mid-2016 with their 16th album, Weird Exits. As on 2015's Mutilator Defeated at Last, the band's leader/guitarist John Dwyer's incredibly powerful and blown-out guitar sound and ragged howl of a voice lead the way, with bassist Tim Hellman and dual drummers Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon from the group's live incarnation chasing valiantly behind in his wake. Dwyer's guitar sound throughout the album is massive, sure to thrill lovers of tones that melt faces and peel paint.
In stark defiance of pop music’s “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” maxim, John Dwyer believes the best antidote to boredom is getting rid of the chorus altogether. Rather than introduce a rousing, anthemic melody to elevate a song to the next level, Dwyer takes the shortcut to ecstasy: after riding a relentless robo-punk rhythm through a couple of creepily cooed verses, he simply screams “wooo!,” and uses his fuzzbox as a springboard into the stratosphere. At this point in the band’s 11-album run, you can pretty much set your watch to this maneuver—A Weird Exits’ pulsating opener, “Dead Man’s Gun,” dutifully triggers its strobe-lit squall at the 40-second mark.
For a band that has changed lineups handfuls of times and released at least a record a year for 14 years, you pretty much know what to expect these days when you get a new album from Thee Oh Sees. That’s partially due to the almost oxymoronic centering presence that is manic guitarist/frontman John Dwyer; the guy started the project on his own and has been the only constant member. But just as importantly, we know what to expect because of the band’s near ceaseless touring.
Confusion is bound to reign when any band suggests a hiatus is at hand, has their booking agent confirm it, and then issue a statement that reinforces said break whilst also announcing another new record within months. In Thee Oh Sees’ case, it’s not the quickfire turnaround of another album that had took their audience aback – they’ve long since been a byword for prodigious productivity – or even that they’d appeared to directly contradict themselves by simultaneously declaring downtime and more music. The baffling thing was that John Dwyer’s outfit would entertain the concept of slowing down at all.
Eclectic would be a major understatement if used to describe Thee Oh Sees. 11 records in eight years is more than enough source material to ascertain this. Psychedelic. Funk. Trippy. Buzzy. It's all there. Through the lineup changes, the sonic diversity that pre-dates A Weird Exits has always been ….
You may not remember this, but Thee Oh Sees went on hiatus at one point. John Dwyer put his long-term musical project on hold for a much-deserved rest at the end of 2013. Why you might not remember this break is because, for the Thee Oh Sees, it lasted five months. Before the band’s hiatus, Dwyer and his players had just completed an amazing run of albums, concluding with Floating Coffin and a third singles collection.
In the latest twist to an always-different, always-the-same discography that romps through garage, punk, kraut, pop and multiple lineup changes, US psychonauts Thee Oh Sees have taken their recent double-drummered live lineup into the studio. As with last year’s Mutilator Defeated At Last, there’s less fuzz than of yore, and a newly gutsy dynamism on the likes of the cymbal-crashing Ticklish Warrior, or the thrashily exhilarating Gelatinous Cube. There’s still plenty of range, as on the stately space psych of Crawl Out from the Fallout or the punch-drunk, organ-drenched anti-love song The Axis.
Expanding their lineup with a second drummer, Thee Oh Sees are allowed to stretch their sound and release one of their most cosmic, trippiest records yet. As opposed to preceding records, half of these songs are under the 5-minute mark (with one of those songs as an instrumental, anyway), and the title and placing of the third track, “Jammed Entrance,” shifts the album after two of the more song-oriented tracks. But that’s not a mark on “Dead Man’s Gun”, where Dwyer’s staccato vocals contrast with the guitar assault (with the “WOOH” war-cry preceding each one), or “Ticklish Warrior,” which is heavier: Dwyer’s vocals are a shout this time, and distortion drenches the march-like guitar riff.
Ultimately, though, ‘A Weird Exits’ feels like a veneration of Dwyer the guitarist. He seems to be cranking out killer riffs for fun: superfuzzed hard rock grandstanding that breaks up the chugging retro-psych of ‘Dead Man’s Gun’; crashing and blown-out on the splendidly titled ‘Ticklish Warrior’; wild-eyed and wiry for the album’s punk zenith ‘Gelatinous Cube’. Even at his most beardy and laidback – closer ‘The Axis’, a ’70s-soaked, Neil Young-ish thing powered by whirring organ – a spate of crunchy, decaying amp noise is round the corner.
Psychedelic rock has witnessed a recent rise in popularity over the last few years, with bands such as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Wytches and underground hero Ty Segall – who’s gained a more widespread fanbase - becoming entry points to the genre for new fans. But if there’s one thing that ties all these bands together, it’s the influence Californian garage-rockers Thee Oh Sees, whose blood lies in the veins of all the psychedelic contemporaries. The band has seen several line-up reinventions since their 1997 formation – they’ve even had a couple of ‘transitional’ periods - but one thing that’s always remained constant is their carefully-crafted and frequently-emulated sound.
Seventeenth album from the freaky forefathers of California skuzz, A Weird Exits somehow captures Thee Oh Sees at their best. Led by manic John Dwyer, the prolific and pulverizing San Fran fourpiece incorporates the usual: lyrics blurred into oblivion by distorted, ethereal vocals above a thrash of ripping, fuzz guitars and caveman drums, Dwyer's shouts of "woo!" punctuating the madness. Spacey instrumental "Jammed Entrance," organ-driven "The Axis," and the nearly eight-minute "Crawl Out From the Fall Out" offer some reprieve from more propulsive cuts "Gelatinous Cube" and "Dead Man's Gun," which conjure up sloshing beer and moshing bodies in dim, dirty venues.