What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Thee Oh Sees?
Probably their riot-sparking live show, right? Visions of a guitar-chewing,
melody-maiming John Dwyer careening across your cranium, rounded out
by a wild-eyed wrecking crew that drives every last hook home like it’s a nail
in the coffin of what you thought it meant to make 21st-century rock ’n’ roll?
Yeah, that sounds about right. But it misses a more important point—how
impossible Thee Oh Sees have been to pin down since Dwyer launched the
project in the late ’90s as a solo break from such sorely missed underground
bands as Pink and Brown and Coachwhips. (While Dwyer still records
songs on his own, Thee Oh Sees is now a five-piece featuring keyboardist
/ singer Brigid Dawson, guitarist Petey Dammit, drummer Mike Shoun
and multi-instrumentalist / singer Lars Finberg.) That restlessness extends
to everything from the towering, thirteen-minute title track of 2010’s Warm
Smile LP to the mercurial moods of 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth
Spending a Night In.
Now, Thee Oh Sees chase the home-brewed symphonies of Castlemania
with the scrappy, high-wire hooks of Carrion Crawler / The Dream. Originally
envisioned as two EPs, it was cut live to tape in less than a week at Chris
Woodhouse’s Sacramento studio in June, reflecting the battering-ram bent
of the band’s live show better than any bootleg ever could. “As I’m sure
most would agree,” explains Dwyer, “Castlemania was more of a vocal tirade.
This one’s meant to pummel and throb.”
That it does, whether one blasts the slow, speaker-bruising build of “The
Dream,” the sunburnt organs and dovetailing guitars of “Crack in Your Eye”
or the interstellar instrumental “Chem-Farmer,” a perfect example of what
happens when one takes a well-oiled machine—a gang of rabid road warriors,
really—and adds a second, groove-locked drum set to the mix. To
listen is to realize that Dwyer’s music is as manic as the underground comic
inclinations of his artwork; colorful and confusing in a way that’s more than
welcome. It’s downright refreshing, like a slap in the face at 5:00 in the morning.
Or, as Dwyer puts it, “You have to leave a mark somehow.”