Release Date: Apr 19, 2014
Record label: W.A.R.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Neo-Psychedelia
The Bay Area’s most prolific contemporary thrashers, Thee Oh Sees, are a force of strange nature. Led by mastermind John Dwyer, the amorphous group seemingly record and perform constantly, producing brilliant, sharp garage ditties virtually around the clock. As a consequence, the ragtag group has conjured a revival for psychedelia and ushered in a further appreciation of music rooted in early garage sensibilities.
It's a little hard to tell – their numerous lineups, incarnations and releases are not easy to keep track of – but this is something like the 12th Oh Sees studio album in eight years. The constant is John Dwyer, San Francisco rock luminary (who recently moved to Los Angeles – perhaps a bit of a ravens-leaving-the-tower moment for SF's celebrated modern-day psych scene) and apparently inexhaustible human wellspring of weird, lovely noises. The various sides of Thee Oh Sees – the world-beatingly loud'n'fast live garage band; the swirlier, prettier home-taped psych-pop solo project; the synth-kraut-spacerock explorers – are comprehensively represented on Drop, and in songs such as Encrypted Bounce (a sleek, pulsing rocker with a sharp, sour tang), Put Some Reverb On My Brother (a playful psychedelic colour-riot) and Transparent World (a woozy, alien cloud of melodious drones), Dwyer sounds on the creative form of his life.
This year at SXSW, San Francisco rock luminary John Dwyer appeared not as part of Thee Oh Sees, the merry psychedelic rock troupe he’s fronted since 2008, but as frontman of The Coachwhips – an ultra-lo-fi garage trio he was wrecking ears with round about 2003. Dwyer’s tendency to ricochet his way through a variety of groups and side projects has occasionally made him appear the sort of maddening figure who’ll switch up the script right at the very moment success comes calling. Mind you, that’s just financial success – and who really gives a fuck about that when every fresh idea you turn your hand to gleams like gold?Before Dwyer puts the Thee Oh Sees name to rest for a while to concentrate on his new solo project Damaged Bug, there’s just time for this last transmission.
Well, that didn’t take long. As it turns out, the only thing Thee Oh Sees do more expediently than release new music is hiatuses. Less than five months after frontman John Dwyer told a hometown audience at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall that they wouldn’t be seeing the band in action for a while, Thee Oh Sees have reemerged with their eighth full-length record in six years (to say nothing of a 7" and split-EP stream that that presumably puts as great a strain on America’s vinyl pressing plants as Record Store Day).
From the very first “Sweat Leaf”-channeling fuzz riff, there’s no question what’s being “dropped” on this latest dispatch from prolific San Francisco garage-psych veterans Thee Oh Sees. How many hits is anybody’s guess, but I think “at least a 10-strip” is a safe place to start. Lead track “Penetrating Eye” is the kind of stonerific sludge that pulses from the speakers the way blood pulses through the veins of some poor snakebit bastard with about a half an hour to live.
There was a time not so long ago when a Thee Oh Sees release came to your disc tray prepared to fulfill a very focused, limited set of expectations. The guitars would rip and buzz, the vocals would deliver punk ethos in earnest and the scuzzy, drug-haze lyrics would break through the noise just often enough to imply an odd sort of dread for a garage band. Originally just a side project to filter legendary lo-fi guitarist John Dwyer’s more idiosyncratic wishes, Thee Oh Sees have grown to become both the most reliable and exciting thing going in the world of DIY psychedelia.
For a band who've built a career out of letting their collective freak flag fly, Thee Oh Sees seem to be purposefully inching toward something resembling normality. 2013's Floating Coffin found them inquisitively poking at the frameworks of straight-up hard rock, and with 2014's Drop, Thee Oh Sees are similarly playing with pop songs. There's definitely a side portion of psychedelia folded into these tunes, as you might expect, but the oozing guitar freakouts and epic-scale noise battles that used to be a traditional feature on an Oh Sees album generally fail to materialize.
When we last checked in with John Dwyer and co., they were busily transitioning the trippy studio tomfoolery of 2012’s Putrifiers II into a harder rocking album about death. Floating Coffin revisited the scalding garage punk of Carrion Crawler/The Dream, imbuing it with a gleeful sense of existential dread and a more polished veneer. And that’s more or less where we expected to leave the band for a while, what with the whole indefinite hiatus thing — except that, in making such an assumption, we forgot that in OhSeean “indefinite hiatus” translates into “a reasonable length of time between records” for the rest of us.
Garage rock can get a little one-dimensional. Thee Oh Sees are not that way inclined, infusing their records with a wriggling, lysergic edge. Fans of this niche but alluring outfit assumed that they were over last year when main man John Dwyer relocated from San Francisco to LA. Instead, they have released an eighth studio record as Thee Oh Sees (Dwyer's put out plenty more).