April 25th, 2014 14:05 EST
Thee Oh Sees` 'Drop' Recalls Anywhere From the Paisley Underground Bands, to Marvels of Fripptronics!
Initially, I was attracted to the groovy, neon black light-like record cover (by Jonny Negron) of Thee Oh Sees` Drop (Castle Face 33), when I saw it displayed on the listening station, at the End Of A Ear indie record store in Austin, Texas (2209 S. 1st St.). I acted on my impulse, put some handy headphones on, attempted turning on the player, then gave the first cut, Penetrating Eye, a quick spin - WHAMO, I loved it!
Alright, so, with the ravishing little platter in hand, I got myself rung up quickly by the cashier, also thinking to ask him about the title playing throughout the store, which pleased me much, it`s John Dwyer`s newest project, Damaged Bug.
Well, the clerk told me they had to re-order it, since they were presently sold out; I asked him whether these guys had ever played in Austin, and he said yea, but for SXSW it was a different project, the garagy Coachwhips.
Once again, I wondered where I`ve been for the last decade, musically speaking; this is my first Thee Oh Sees album, and also my first close encounter with the trippy pipings of John Dwyer, but now I`m ridin` smoothly on the Electric Koolaid Acid Test-esque bandwagon now (hope I don`t have an accident and fall off the roof like Diane Linkletter!).
Throwback to Good Friday: I peel the saran wrap off the day-glow platter, then pop it into my CD player (my 2014 Toyota Corolla LE has a superb sound system) and played it through one time. I can dig it!
Very well recorded and mixed, with a lot of variety to the songs; at the same time, the songs are very Pop, but further, there`s an experimental element to the songs (if not to the entire project), that hints at a good amount of planning (went down), before any knobs were twisted, notes were played, or celluloid was burned with sonic imprints. (I chased this first listening with a viewing of Under The Skin and it was a complement).
Alright, so after doing some necessary homework, and reviewing sundry biographical data on John Dwyer, I see he`s been at this for quite a while, and has recorded scads of records under many different band names; as such, the breakthroughs I notice on Drop may be due to lots of hard work, drive and determination, or the plentiful experience he`s already gained (which finally pays off).
And teaming up with Chris Woodhouse (audio engineer here), I suspect, may have a lot to do with why Drop dazzles, delights, and dares us most emphatically. Woodhouse knows his way around a mixer board, I can say that for sure!
Careful song sequencing is another good marketing technique used here; beginning with The Penetrating Eye was a good idea, as was ending with the vaguely Beatle-esque The Lens (more Procol Harem, actually), following within the bounds of terrific classic `60s concept gems, such as Sergeant Pepper or Her Majesty.
I can tell John Dwyer has studied the masters with a good deal of zeal; I`m a student (if not a senior citizen) of Garage Rock and Psychedelia too, and so I noticed a kinship with some of the 1980s bands that were popping up in the category we now call Paisley Underground (see The Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, or Rain Parade).
Although, I`m not too well versed in John Dwyer`s copious catalog, I did at least get a chance to hear Thee Oh Sees last one, Floating Coffin, which was more of a hard garage rocker effort, I thought, and lacked the sophistication, polish, and even imagination of Drop.
On the other hand, most of the critics I read favored Floating Coffin (although I do love Toe Cutter) and Putrifiers II over the new one. My deeply engrained pop sensibilities probably explains why I like the newest effort more than FC (I`ll get around pretty quick to Putrifiers II). Going forward, I`ll give you just a few brief, yet insightful comments, touching on each and every song, then leave you on your merry way!
The Penetrating Eye (3:23) has a thick texture of white synthetic noise as a backdrop to the domineering, heavily stacked Randy California-esque guitar fuzz - wall of sound, sonic citadel. My failing ear-cones require proper headphones in order to detect the separation (since I can`t afford Bang Olufsen computer speakers).
The mix is in there, if you`re a little younger than me, or, if you`re elderly, still have your hearing. (Note): I think I blew mine out years ago, back when I`d press them right on the obelisk towers they had in The Armadillo World Headquarters.
A recurring theme is introduced in the first song; an ominous being is apparently looming largely over the cowering artist, possibly from up above. I may be exaggerating this paranoid totalitarian proclivity a tidbit, since I just saw the Johnny Depp bomb, Transcendence yesterday, to a shrinking, nearly empty suburban cinema screen house.Okay, so Drop`s Evil Eye is cooler than the prosaic Mister Depp`s is! FYI: Encryped Bounce (5:41) is also a much better expression of futuristic sonancy.
EB may be where I was linking the Paisley Underground bands of the `80s (to Thee Oh Sees), an earlier allusion. The lyric lines are talkie sung in a falsetto that`s trance-like, against a barrage of sparkling garage punk guitar (blitzkrieg).
A middle eight guitar pick up passage is especially eerie, sounding like a crabby Caterpillar tractor in bad need of oiling, lumbering through a mile long concrete pipe tunnel, coming at you with a terror, via a homeward bound upscaling of the fret board, plentifully treated with who knows what kind of effects box? Did a job on me!
Savage Victory (4:07) reminds me of early Moody Blues up to a point, with it`s dreamy synth textures pitched as a backdrop, but then a three note power guitar hook takes control of the reigns. SV is a very interesting `60s psychedelically influenced little song!
The lyrics suggest a third party entity will probably take possession of another party`s soul shortly, likely it`s a lady`s, by way of a zen voodoo spell (see JD in Transcendence) or something such? Perhaps, Put Some Reverb On My Brother (2:33) continues with this trend, a guru flexed mantra of poetic wordplay,that seemingly seeks inner spirituality. The baritone sax is the more spiritual aspect here.
Ironically, Drop (2:30), the title cut, is my least favorite of the 9 tracks; I still like it though, and was reminded of the Jesus and Mary Chain, for some reason. Love the heavily treated, layered fuzz guitars; maybe was put off by the vocals, which were a bit affected with nasal. Don`t know who he is mimicking?
Camera (Queer Sound) 3:11 reminds me of Beck, a master of many styles. The theme of a line life is a camera closely mirrors the previously referenced Big Brother Is Watching You one; nowadays our lives are filmed (or videoed, I mean), then played back unedited on Facebook (then conceivably Liked a time or two). That`s not so cool (you older cats see: Brave New World or1984)!
Finally, I`m to King`s Nose (3:36), my favorite track on the record. King Crimson`s Court of the Crimson King is the first thing that came to mind; Fripptronics all the way! The best is the B Section, a downwardly spiraling progression, tying the tune back into the chorus. You`ll want to revisit Robert Fripp`s Exposure to see what I`m talking about. A brilliant mostly lost gem!
The Lens (2:36) continues along these same CC surreal lines; a visionary `60s feel, outgrowth of FM radio, Procol Harem in-flexion of keyboard s against Spirit`s Jay Ferguson vocals and the special ethereal thing of Randy California guitar twanging (just a suggestion, not the real deal). Almost left out Transparent World (3:31); experimental with Laurie Anderson, treated through a filter vocals. A metaphysical rant, very trippy, a Star Trek pipedream I can dig. Now it`s on to Damaged Bug!