Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: In the Red Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Surprisingly, it’s been an entire year since Warm Slime, and Thee Oh Sees’ summer record, Castlemania, lands with the announcement of a fall album on its heels (no surprise there). A film of fuzz lifted from what used to sound like live pilot jams, Castlemania reveals a discernibly tinkered sound including flutes, horns and Mellotrons. It’s the band’s most fractured album to date, folding art-garage conventions into themselves instead of working them into song structures, especially on the dissonant instrumentals on “Stinking Cloud” and “Corrupted Coffin.” They’re at the drug fallout instead of its zenith, yet with plenty of goods—and riffs—around the corner.
San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees are a band with fuzzy boundaries – they hover between acting as a solo outlet for US garage-punk linchpin John Dwyer and existing as a full band, and stylistically between psychedelic whimsy and amp-blowing ferocity. For the past couple of years they have concentrated on the latter, touring tirelessly and deservedly becoming a real cult draw. Now Castlemania dials down the fuzz a bit: guitars are largely acoustic (albeit bashed at with a punkish gusto), the arrangements full of messy, playful colour and the tunes some of their poppiest yet.
There’s one important aspect to the “garage-rock” category and it’s the fact that this description is a tribute to a location; the place where the music is created is a representation of the breed. The domain is heavily involved with the sound, the attitude and the inspiration. This has remained a very simple and faithful concept since the early 1960s.
Thee Oh Sees’ newest record Castlemania kicks off with “I Need Seed,” a ragged, bouncy number that’s evocative — both in form and content — of nothing more so than Gary Young’s 1994 novelty hit “Plant Man.” It’s a curveball, sure, but it’s tough to be surprised by anything from John Dwyer and co. these days. After transitioning from the blissful weirdness of The Cool Death of Island Raiders and Sucks Blood into straight-ahead garage rock with 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, we’ve been waiting for the group to reinvent its sound again.
In an age where any jackass kid with a four-track can bathe his ill-conceived “songs” in feedback and then post them to the internet overnight, John Dwyer has become something of an elder statesmen in the nebulous and increasingly popular garage/punk rock underground, and he did it the old-fashioned way. For some 15 years now, Dwyer has been playing in bands, amassing shows, starting new bands with which to amass shows, and just generally getting out there like any decent musician should—doing the work, as it were. Dwyer’s most easily discernible/notable starting point came via his noise-rock-by-way-of-performance-art duo, Pink and Brown, in 1997, and was followed by the slightly-less-short-lived Coachwhips in the early/mid ‘00s, with a smattering of bands in between and since.
Over the past decade, San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees have morphed from a showcase for skronk-savant John Dwyer's sensitive side into the hardest working band in garage-rock. Their output is prolific and their live show combustible. But on Castlemania, Dwyer opts to go it alone. With the exception of live-band regular Brigid Dawson-- who, along with the Sandwitches' Heidi Alexander, contributes some backing vocals-- the shaggy-banged songwriter handles almost all of the instruments.
One of the hallmarks of Thee Oh Sees body of work is that every recording they've made sounds as if it was created while the musicians were under the influence of a variety of hallucinogens, so it tells listeners practically nothing to say that the group's seventh album, Castlemania, sounds pretty trippy. However, while the average Oh Sees album is a heavy exercise in psychedelic murk, Castlemania sounds surprisingly light and pop-oriented, if only by this band's standards. Tunes like "Pleasure Blimps," "I Need a Seed," and "Spider Cider" recall classic mid-'60s pop tunes in their slightly bent melodicism, at least before John Dwyer and his bandmates start draping layers of atonal soloing and Mellotron figures over them.
An annoying offering which fails to further the Californians’ garage-rock cause. Alex Deller 2011 While the "soundtrack to your summer" tag is dropped with gay abandon umpteen times a year, this here is the real deal. Nope, that doesn’t mean the daft grins and guaranteed sunshine of a petrol station Beach Boys best-of; rather, the will-it-rain-or-will-it-shine mediocrity and nerve-jangling frustrations of any given British summertime.