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Oh Sees - "Orc" | Album Review

oh sees cover.jpg

by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)

Much in the same way the groggy minimalism of the band called OCS mutated into the eccentric maximalism of Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer’s bizarro garage-restricted legacy has once again taken on a slightly new form - this time the vast infinity of progressive psychedelia that evidently delineates (just) Oh Sees. This is to say that the name change isn’t merely a product of Dwyer’s indecisiveness or dissatisfaction with the “Thee,” but rather reflects the concrete change that’s taken place over the course of a few years’ experimental transition. As evinced by the reduction-of-band-name and its terse title, Orc aims to cut the fat off last years’ trial runs and introduce the new Oh Sees thesis as yet another Phlegethon of shrieking Gibsons and yelping Dwyers now aiming to fill observatories rather than dive bars.

Our introduction to Orc arrived via a pair of blistering singles recalling the first of the band’s three albums they released in 2016, descriptively christened Live in San Francisco. “The Static God” and “Animal Violence” both embody the wild energy of an Oh Sees live show, the former capitalizing on the freneticism of “Toe Cutter” and the Sees’ long history of high voltage focal points endowed with Dwyer’s staccato yip, the latter showcasing John’s menacing growl and general awareness of heavy metal as a genre, as debuted on “Withered Hand” and “Ticklish Warrior.” Guided by heroic riffs, either cut could fill the roles of live show staple and resume-topper for Dwyer, whose decade fronting the band “Thee Oh Sees” can be heard in just about every facet of the singles.

Yet the remaining eight tracks prove less Thee-focused and instead flaunt the Jarmusch-level cool the band has cultivated with the recent addition of bassist Tim Hellman and drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone. As prophesied by “Nervous Tech,” the parting gift from the band’s third and final album of 2016, the spirit of Sonny Sharrock is also among the group’s modified roster, as is the spacey lucid soundscape inherent in any project personified (Orcified?) by the artwork of honorary Oh See Robert Beatty. The eight-minute “Keys to the Castle” encapsulates the very transformation of “Thee” to “née,” as the wailing sirens that are John’s guitar mellow out into prolonged cello drones within the harmonies of Germany’s late ‘60s experimental rock scene. From here on out we’re in mostly uncharted territory, notably featuring three totally instrumental tracks, plenty of Yes-wary keys, and the unmistakable presence of post-production in the form of “Jettison’s” slow fade out.

Meanwhile the wide range of instrumentation smothered in utter weird reflects the Oh Sees we know and love (namely, Thee Oh Sees). The lilting “ahs” (Brigid?) of “Cooling Tower” clash handsomely with the subsequent psychic molasses of “Drowned Beast,” while the Damaged Bug flavored “Nite Expo” serves as a foreshadowing preview of the hazy universe the plain-ol’ Oh Sees have yet to reveal. By the time we reach the percussion-driven closer, “Raw Optics,” it becomes entirely evident that Dwyer’s mid-career crisis has wrought an altogether new band, one possessing more in common with Zorak and the Original Way Outs than his former West Coast garage scene. “Optics” offers a blunt closing statement to an album that begins like any previous album prominently featuring Dwyer’s vocals, Dwyer’s guitar, and Dwyer’s songwriting, though the message is less important than the medium: a three minute drum solo.