What I’m listening to: Thee Oh Sees

San Fran rockers casually release one of the best rock records of the year

I was at a bar the other day, talking with a friend, when he commented on the Death of Rock Music these days—how a good number of our popular bands consist of neon- and tight-pants-wearing, knob-turning, drum-kit-programming electro-rockers, who are far more influenced by New Order than by Joy Division. He may have a point. (We’re looking at you, Chaz Bundick/Ariel Pink.) Which is why I’m so enamored with bands like Thee Oh Sees, who’ve been casually crafting spastic garage rock nugs for nearly a decade, with nary a vocoder in site.

The project of prolific master John Dwyer, a scene vet since the late ‘90s who’s jammed with just about everyone, Thee Oh Sees follow a similar trajectory to one of my all-time favorite bands, Guided by Voices. Just as GBV started as a figment of Bob Pollard’s imagination, morphing from low-key garage project (with a rotating cast of regulars) to incredibly prolific indie rock giants—so too have Thee Oh Sees—transitioning from Dwyer’s solo project to an established force of ever-changing members. Since 2004, the band has released no less than 14 records (including 2 last year), and developed a small but strong following. But if there’s ever a time for Thee Oh Sees to burst forth into the public consciousness, in a moment of Bee Thousand-esque splendor, that time is now—after the release of fantastic new LP, Putrifiers II.

Part of what’s allowed Thee Oh Sees to be so prolific throughout the years is that their sound is constantly evolving—from scuzzy, grunge rockers to psychedelic freakouts to pop-influenced sing-alongs. But on Putrifiers II they really hit their stride, adopting a style that mixes brash, garage rock with an undisputable ear for melody. The record was recorded live with a full band, which explains the high energy levels throughout. “We are usually pretty quick [in the studio],” admits keyboard/vocalist Brigid Dawson to The Huffington Post. “We just set up and we play live once or twice and then we're done.”

Putrifiers kicks off with volatile rager “Wax Face,” a hard-rocking, yelp-spiked, guitar-wailing intro into what’s to come, complete with thick vocal harmonies. Follower “Hang a Picture” has an easygoing swagger that places the emphasis on Dwyer’s killer falsetto—while “So Nice” slows things down just a little, to introduce strings (yes strings!) into the mix, in an unexpected but rewarding twist.

Early single “Flood’s New Light” is a rousing, rollicking charmer, and easily one of my favorite songs of the year so far, with a poppy chorus and killer bass line. “Lupine Dominus” is not far behind, with thick horn blatts, driving percussion and hushed, psych-tinged vocals. The title track is a Krautrock-influenced, crunchy, 6-minute slow-burner. And closer “Wicked Park” is surprisingly sweet and folksy, with gentle strings and vocals the coo, “lay down, take off the ground, and rest your head.” It’s an unusual twist for a band known for rocking hard—but then again, Thee Oh Sees are never ones to fulfill expectations.

Stream Putrifiers II for free via Stereogum; then scoop it up now via In The Red Records.


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