Release Date: Nov 8, 2011
Record label: In the Red Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Garage Punk, Lo-Fi
Thee Oh Sees’ Castlemania scored rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Not content to coast, however, the band has released a second 2011 LP entitled Carrion Crawler/The Dream. It was recorded in a matter of days and does an admirable job of capturing the electric spirit of the band’s live shows. Stacking up well alongside contemporaries like Black Lips, Quintron and King Khan, Thee Oh Sees blend convulsive punk with head-lolling psychedelia.
With Castlemania scarring listeners’ ears back in June, Thee Oh Sees maniacal frontman Jon Dwyer casually claimed that the San Francisco outfit’s next would be their “best [album] yet.” Fans of the band never have to wait long—in the past two years, Thee Oh Sees have released five albums, and number five is certainly a doozy. While it doesn’t have the psych-pop variety of 2009’s breakthrough Help, Carrion Crawler/The Dream captures the band in psychedelic bulldozer mode instead, delivering ten blistering cuts at a furious pace. As their live shows reach near-legendary status, it’s only fitting that Thee Oh Sees would attempt to capture that experience.
Propulsive, careening, and at times, openly dangerous, Thee Oh Sees are like the house band for a runaway train. Much of their appeal comes from the fact that they're a machine with four equal parts: the wide-eyed, cult-leader charisma of frontman John Dwyer, the effortless cool of keyboardist/singer Brigid Dawson, the pulsating low end of Petey Dammit, and the steel-solid rhythmic anchor of Mike Shoun. With unspeakable chemistry and an instinctual bond that borders on telepathic, the band has taken its wildly cacophonous and setlist-free live show to must-see status, turning music venues populated by arm-folding spectators into anarchic riot scenes.
To call John Dwyer prolific is a bit like calling The Beatles “like the best band ever.” It’s been said before. But regardless of the statement’s lack of originality, it isn’t any less accurate or fitting. The mad scientist behind Thee Oh Sees has lead his merry band of weirdos through an exhaustive amount of releases in the last 15 or so years, with the last year being particularly fruitful.
Since first emerging in the musical underground in the late ‘90s, Thee Oh Sees brainchild John Dwyer has never been satisfied to rest on his considerable creative laurels, jumping from project to project (starting with noise rock duo Pink & Brown and aside from Thee Oh Sees probably best known for distortion-laden garage revivalists Coachwhips). But now offering Thee Oh Sees’ eighth full-length in five years, Carrion Crawler/The Dream -- just five months past the release of its predecessor, Castlemania -- Dwyer seems to have hit a sweet spot, slowly evolving the band rather than abandoning it. The two-albums-in-one-year approach served the band well in 2009, as they offered both the shambling, acoustic-focused Dog Poison and chaos-in-control Help that year, and whether by design or coincidence, a similar trajectory emerged in 2011.
San Francisco garage rock outfit Thee Oh Sees have been making music, be it as a full lineup or as frontman John Dwyer’s solo project, for several years. This past May’s Castlemania was a peak for the band, a point in their recorded output where they demonstrated just how tight and lethal their sound is. For their second album of 2011, Carrion Crawler/The Dream, the group outdo themselves by being just as succinct while demonstrating an even greater sense of accessibility for their often bizarre, always intricate blend of noise.
There's something reassuring about knowing that a man like John Dwyer can still exist. He follows on in the lineage of the garage rock forefathers Iggy and Roky - completely unpredictable in his performance, most likely the maddest man in the room. If he's not busting amplifiers or smashing ceilings with a guitar, he's busting chops. Of course, that's the caricature, the bristling imprint of the Wild Man coloured in with a few florid words.
This John Dwyer-led, San Francisco collective's jagged psych-punk has always been ear catching, but this ups the ante. Initially conceived as two separate EPs, Thee Oh Sees' second album in less than a year maintains a squall of fuzzed-out freak rock in the service of hook-laden songs. The opening title track siphons Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd through a flammable sieve of Memphis, Tenn., garage primitivism, while the second song is a mind-bending guitar/organ swirl propelled by double drummers locked in a breakneck pace for nearly seven minutes.
There must have been an extra reel of tape lying around after Thee Oh Sees wrapped recording for Castlemania, which dropped in May. Carrion Crawler/The Dream comes out of the gate six months later and is a somewhat different record. Gone are the Kinks-ian pop whimsies of Castlemania replaced by driven, explosive drones and jams more in keeping with last year’s Warm Slime.