Review: Thee Oh Sees – Drop [Album]

By ajcolores

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Hold up, John Dwyer's songwriting prolificacy has turned up to 11. Following their reported announcement of 'a break after five years straight', Thee Oh Sees have become the first band ever (probably) to spend their hiatus writing an album. Listing their output of the last half-decade would be about as protracted as the average political manifesto, but their bizarre brand of woozy psych-garage has arguably got better with every 100 or so songs they put out - last year's 'Toe Cutter Thumb Buster' being the glorious zenith of trippy riffage. So, even though you could see Drop as a bit of a bonus album to satisfy the withdrawal symptoms, it also has an upward trend to live up to. With the recent rise in psychedelia's popularity, that couldn't come at a better time.

Booming opener 'Penetrating Eye' is a brash statement of their continual intent to thrust out massive riffs - if that's anything to go by, their music is going off the chart. In a better world it would be a boxer's entrance music, Dwyer in taunting mode as siren-like riffs make an aural assault. There's a couple of reasons it makes the start of the record; it screams their return from the rooftops, and also it's the best thing on Drop. The standard doesn't decline by much, though. 'King's Nose' displays a vastly different Oh Sees: an Ariel Pink-style saunter straying into 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' territory with Dwyer's dreamy vocals, but its unorthodox stop-start structure clearing any lingering air of pastiche. 'Savage Victory', a creepy Halloween march, shows the band's mastery in creating a psychedelic experience without over-reliance on dramatic gimmicks. Despite its short gestation period, Drop at no point sounds rushed - a testament to the Oh Sees' constant innovation (somewhere there's an alien John Peel proclaiming them 'always different, always the same', and he wouldn't be wrong).

WATCH | Thee Oh Sees - 'Drop'

Still, an unfortunate by-product of perpetual invention is that there's bound to be a few misses, though here they are overridden by the hits. 'Put Some Reverb On My Brother' attempts hypnotic repetition but just ends up grating, and 'Camera (Queer Sound)' has a sound that really isn't all that weird, to be honest - its tired oohs and aahs drag it further in to the middle-road. It's when the likes of 'Drop' power into the mix that you realise that very few bands can hope to emulate their talent for condensing madness into a coherent structure. Getting the right balance between chaotic and purposeful, accessible and challenging, is one that lazy, derivative newcomers to an increasingly bloated scene cannot hope to achieve. Thee Oh Sees have the experience of a veteran performer but the fresh outlook of youth - and twist the logic of time with psychedelia that could not have been made in the sixties. It's not immediately obvious, but they're an almost unique proposition.

As if to underline the point, closer 'The Lens' relinquishes the usual graphic lyrical trips in favour of a smooth ballad of adoration and optimism, with strings, brass and Mikal Cronin on backing vocal duty. Another example of sublime songwriting intricacy, as layered major-key arrangements punctuate Dwyer's promise that 'even though life’s pain today, I will be with you'. Overall, Drop feels like it was written by various people in two years, not one man in a matter of months. In a genre where all options are said to have been exhausted, Thee Oh Sees always discover new ground; it's long overdue that they achieve mainstream recognition. It won't be a Letterman dance routine that gets them noticed, not a gimmicky viral campaign, just a consistently great stream of records. The old-fashioned route to success for a band of forward-thinkers.

Drop is out now.

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