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Oh Sees

The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In

 

 

Thee Oh Sees

2008

Although John Dwyer and company had released a fair amount of underground albums prior to this under the name "The Ohsees", for all intents and purposes, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In is, practically speaking, their 1st album.

It was the first album officially released as "Thee Oh Sees", so, considering that (and the fact reviewing their more obscure and scattershot older albums isn't really worth the time) we shall start here.

Basically what we have on Thee Oh Sees 1st album is kind of like a long-winded rough-draft version of what the band would eventually become.  It's got a decent mix of the more infectious, feedback-laden dancy garage-jams the band would become known for, along with a fair amount of more spacey, somewhat psychedelic numbers that give the album some subtle variety.  As expected, everything seems fairly stripped-down here, and even when the band does cook-up a good jam (like on "Two Drummers Disappear" or "Poison Finger") it sounds almost timid compared to what they would release in the coming years.  The spacier tunes are OK, but are a little too meandering and unfocused for the most part.

For it's time, this was a fairly interesting and exciting album that put a mildly psychedelic spin on garage-punk, but it really doesn't hold up particularly well to the band's future output.  Worth a listen, but nothing particularly special in their catalog overall.

7.7

 

Help

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Thee Oh Sees

2009

This is really the first "well-rounded" solid Thee Oh Sees album in their extensive catalog.  It sounds more focused and forceful than "Master's Bedroom...", as evidenced on the opening track "Enemy Destruct" which sports sort of a wall-of-sound meets the Mamas and the Papas vibe.  Help is generally a more danceable/high-energy affair than it's predecessor, but it still has that familiar 60s/groovy sound going on.  It's all filtered through grating and feedback-drenched amplification, which gives the music an exciting, careening quality to it at times (i.e. "Ruby Go Home" and the standout track "Meat Step Lively").  The first 4 tracks are all pretty impressive and invigorating for the most part ("A Flag in the Court" is downright melodic and dripping with 60s nostalgia), but from there things get a bit more hit-or-miss on the back-half of the album.  Thee Oh Sees are at their best when they bring that danceable/high-energy approach to their music, but there are a few too many tracks on the aforementioned backside of the album that meander a bit too much, which contributes to Help loosing it's proverbial steam at times.

Although Thee Oh Sees would release better albums after this one, Help was their most impressive/promising effort they had released up to that point.  It's probably their best album from their early years, and that might actually make Help sound slightly better than it actually is.  But, whatever the case, this is a more than solid garage-flavored psych-punk album from what would ultimately become the kings of that sub-genre in the coming decade.

8.0

Warm Slime

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Thee Oh Sees

2010

Considering the extensive nature of Thee Oh Sees catalog, it might be tempting to overlook Warm Slime being that it's just a 30 minute EP with only 7 tracks, but to do so would be a mistake. I speak from experience, as this album initially failed to make much of an impression on me, probably because combing through Thee Oh Sees back-catalog can be a daunting process, and as a result, you tend to just seek out their more notorious albums and focus less on albums like this one.

But Warm Slime is an important album, as it's really the first time the band truly lets loose on record.  That's probably because Warm Slime was recorded all in one take in an attempt to capture the type of raw and intense energy that has always been a hallmark of the band's live shows.  While their prior album (Help) certainly had it's moments and is probably a more well-rounded record, Warm Slime sounds a lot more careening and engaging most of the time.  It's a blisteringly loud record, which only adds to the intensity.  The star of the show here is of course the opening title track which clocks in at over 13 minutes, and still remains one of the most invigorating representations of what Thee Oh Sees sound like live.  Granted, it probably lasts a few minutes longer than it should, but for the most part, it's one hell of a fun ride and really brings that live/jammy Oh Sees experience straight from the club right into your headphones (or home speakers, or what have you).

And with the exception of the dingy and underwhelming "Flash Bats" all the other tracks are rock solid and pretty enjoyable for the most part.  So although Warm Slime may be short and sweet, there's very little filler to be found here.  Quality over quantity is always a good thing in my book, and Warm Slime is pretty good example of that.

8.1

Castlemania

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Thee Oh Sees

2011

This is probably the only album in Thee Oh Sees extensive and impressive catalog that has never really done anything for me personally.  It's an unusual album, but unfortunately not really in a good way. Castlemania finds the band exploring their weird side, but in the process they effectively forgot how to make the type of visceral and intense psych-garage-punk that had become their calling card. Broadly speaking, experimentation is often times a good thing musically, but unfortunately the experimentation found on Castlemania is at best slightly tedious, and at worst mildly annoying at times. Most of the songs here have a thin, tossed-off, somewhat melodic quality about them, but they fail to keep your attention very long (if they ever actually grab it in the first place). This just sounds like a typically underwhelming indie rock record with a psychedelic flavor to it.  The songs are generally short, quirky, light on their feet, somewhat playful, but mostly just mediocre, which contributes to an underwhelming and somewhat tedious listening experience overall. Considering the scope of Thee Oh Sees catalog, if you're just getting into them and not sure where to start, Castlemania would not be the best gateway.

7.1

 

Carrion Crawler/The Dream

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Thee Oh Sees

2011

Coming later in the same year as the disappointing and perplexing Castlemania, Thee Oh Sees delivered perhaps the best album in their entire catalog with Carrion Crawler/The Dream.  Simply put, this is the sound of Thee Oh Sees really clicking on all cylinders and finally realizing their potential in the recording studio. There was little doubt of the band's prowess as a live act, but up until CC/TD, Thee Oh Sees hadn't really knocked it out of the park on record yet.

Likely reacting against the oddball and often tedious nature of Castlemania, the band really sounds honed-in and focused on CC/TD, and the results are often electrifying.  The opening title track sets the table, sporting a subtle, wicked, danceable little groove that snakes along ominously, kind of like a prelude to the coming storm that kicks into full gear on the next track "Contraption/Soul Desert". For my money, this is one of the best songs in Thee Oh Sees entire catalog, as it's intensity, energy, and propelling/careening groove are intoxicating.  When Dwyer launches into the many blistering solos here, it just takes the intensity level up to frantic levels, like the aural equivalent of being struck by a bolt of lightning.  Electrifying is definitely the apt term here, and it's a positively invigorating listening experience.  One of those tracks I can't ever seem to play loud enough.

The same could also be said about the other standout live staple found here "The Dream".  It's probably their best known song, and there's a reason for that.  It's fucking awesome!  Not unlike "Contraption/Soul Desert", it sports a propelling, careening, frenzied energy about it, but it's probably a bit more dynamic and psychedelic in tone.  It kind of sounds like prong-punk, if there ever was a thing, but whatever you want to call it, it's best experienced at a high volume.  A certifiably kick-ass song.

But Thee Oh Sees didn't forget about melody here, as "Robber Barons" best demonstrates.  It's got kind of an epic, Jefferson Airplane/neo-psych sound to it that feels like it's summoning the ghosts of 60s past.  A wickedly cool song with a large sound to boot.

But what makes CC/TD really standout as probably the best album in the band's catalog (or at least to date anyway) is the fact that the supporting material is all very good as well.  All the of the other songs have a good electrifying/spastic energy about them, whether it's the propulsive instrumentals ("Chem Farmer" and "Wrong Idea"), or the careening quality of "Opposition" or "Crushed Glass", Carrion Crawler/The Dream is a like a fun psych-punk rollercoaster ride you never want to end.

So overall, if there is one album I would recommend for people new to Thee Oh Sees, it would have to be Carrion Crawler/The Dream.  It rarely lets up in intensity, but it also has enough subtle variety to keep you on your toes throughout the entire listening experience.  A fun ride indeed.

8.7

Putrifiers II

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Thee Oh Sees

2012

Following up the best album of a band's career is typically no easy task, but Thee Oh Sees managed to execute that feat particularly well on Putrifiers II.  

This album finds the Thee Oh Sees taking a foot off the proverbial accelerator so to speak and incorporating more melody and experimentation into their songs.  But whereas their passed efforts at experimentation and psychedelica often bordered on tedium, on Putrifiers II they compliment the style and flavor of the songs quite well.  Most of these songs strike a nicely dense, mid-tempo balance that when coupled with the band's newfound emphasis on melody, gives the music a more well-rounded feeling overall.  A good example of this is on "Hang A Picture" which follows the jumpy opening track "Wax Face".  "Hang A Picture" sports a thick sound, but it's filtered through a demented happy-go-lucky melody, and coupled with the band's psych tendencies, gives it a playfully deranged quality.  The following track "So Nice" finds the band channeling The Velvet Underground in a compelling fashion, and with the help of the brain-tingling instrumental "Cloud #1" which immediately follows it, the band effectively conveys a convincingly uneasy feeling of dissociative meloncholia.  It all adds up to perhaps the finest psychedelic moment in their entire catalog.

From there the band brightens things up (no pun intended) with the sixties-flavored "Flood's New Light", which kind of recalls their more blatantly 60s-inspired selections from their older albums like Help for example.  The same could also be said of "Goodnight Baby", while songs like the dense and hypnotic title-track and "Will We Be Scared?" sport more of a slower, somewhat darker quality, which only adds to the variety and dynamics of the album as a whole.

Basically, what we have on Putrifiers II is the sound of Thee Oh Sees effectively incorporating their psychedelic and melodic influences into their music, and coming up with some pretty satisfying songs as a result.  Granted they have always had aspects of melody and psychadelica in their music, but on past records it sounded a little amateurish or unfocused in nature when it would occasionally creep up.  Nothing sounds particularly forced, half-hazard, or unrealized on Putrifiers II.  While it may not have the spark, exhilaration, or frantic energy of Carrion Crawler/The Dream, everything flows together quite nicely here, and as a result Putrifiers II feels like one of the most cohesive and rewarding albums in Thee Oh Sees' entire catalog.

8.3

Floating Coffin

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Thee Oh Sees

2013

Floating Coffin finds Thee Oh Sees attempting to recapture the frenetic and generally uptempo energy that characterized most of Carrion Crawler/The Dream, with mixed results.  For me personally, while this album has many highlights, it's always sounded slightly forced and often grating to these ears.  Exceptions to this are the lead-off track "I Come From The Mountain" which has become a staple at their live shows and never fails to disappoint, and the following track "Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster" which sports an almost sludgy assault that alternates with a psych-tinged groove. These 2 tracks help get Floating Coffin off to a raucous start, but from there things tend to disintegrate into a mix of either overtly noisy pedestrian numbers (i.e. the title track or "Sweets Helicopter") or more underwhelming psych jams (i.e. "No Spell") or a combination of the 2 ideas (i.e. "Strawberries 1+2").  The most effective psychedelic song on the album is "Night Crawler" with it's warped old-school synthesizer and brooding mid-tempo stomp, and the final track "Minotaur" ends things on a more melodically psychedelic note.  And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Tunnel Time" which is a high quality romp and another live staple, but by the time it surfaces towards the end of the album, you feel a little fatigued from all the grating feedback laced pedestrian tracks to be too turned on by it.

Overall, it's hard to put my finger on it, but for all Floating Coffin's raucous energy, it doesn't seem to add up to a particularly satisfying listening experience for me as a whole.  There's actually decent variety thrown in, but overall this album has always been a little too grating to these ears, in spite of the many quality jams found here.  A pretty good album overall, but not one of my favorites from the band.

8.1

Drop

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Thee Oh Sees

2014

The first thing you might notice about Drop is that it sounds generally a little easier on the ears compared to Floating Coffin.  The production is less grating, the songs seem more well-rounded, and to these ears anyway, the album tends to flow better as a result.  There is more emphasis on melody, rhythm, and occasionally even groove found throughout Drop, which helps contribute to a more cohesive and fluid listening experience overall.  Haven said that, although everything is relatively smoothed over and somewhat more refined (at least by Thee Oh Sees standards), the adrenaline-fueling energy that characterized most of Floating Coffin is somewhat missed as well.  While the opening track "Penetrating Eye" and the follower "Encrypted Bounce" are certainly noteworthy highlights, the rest of the album just kind of goes about it's business without anything in particular really jumping out at you.  That may seem a bit nitpicky, but when a prolific band such as Thee Oh Sees releases a new album (or two) every year, the potential for a quantity over quality problem slowly begins to rear it's head.  So while Drop is a pretty solid, well-rounded album, it's fairly easy to see how it could get lost in the sea of Thee Oh Sees' extensive discography.  Definitely worth a listen now and then, and while there's really no bad jams here, it's hard to say that Drop belongs in the top half of the band's catalog overall.  That says less about the quality of Drop than it does about Thee Oh Sees' prolific and restless nature as a whole. That's the main downside to prolificacy: it can make otherwise solid albums like Drop sound unfairly underwhelming.

8.0

 

Mutilator Defeated At Last

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Thee Oh Sees

2015

If you have been paying attention to most of Thee Oh Sees' releases this decade, you may have noticed a subtle pattern developing.  Their albums tend to alternate between more fiery/frenetic material followed by a more pulled-back, generally more melodic and/or experimental album.  For example, after coming out the gate full steam ahead on Floating Coffins, they immediately followed-up that album with a more harnessed/balanced approach on Drop.  So it should come as no surprise that Mutilator Defeated At Last sports a more up-tempo and emphatic energy to it (for the most part), but what is pleasantly surprising is just how good the album is overall.  In contrast to the somewhat rushed/grating/claustrophobic feeling of Floating Coffins, Thee Oh Sees do a good job of pumping the breaks occasionally on Mutilator.  They don't just come blasting out the gates here, as the opening track "Web" and the follower "Withered Hand" ease you into the careening chaos that is to come.  In other words, many of the songs found here are more restrained and disciplined in nature, featuring a slow-burn build-up before the band assaults you with their patented feedback-laden bursts of energy and intensity.  Not only that, but the guitar-playing and production here is cleaner in nature, and sports more of a groovier (and at times sludgier) attack than their prior records, which contributes to an overall more infectious and satisfying listening experience.  In a nutshell, this album rocks hard and still features all the classic intensity you would come to expect from an Oh Sees record, but the band sounds a bit more professional here, injecting a better sense of dynamics into the songs which in turn gives them some space and room to breathe.  And the mellower/trippier selections (i.e. "Sticky Hulks", "Holy Smokes", and "Palace Doctor") all sound fully realized and engaging for the most part, so everything they do works really well here.  Overall, for a band with such a vast and extensive catalog, Mutilator Defeated At Last definitely stands out as one of their best albums.

8.3

A Weird Exits

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Thee Oh Sees

2016

A Weird Exits finds Thee Oh Sees once again delivering their patented brand of high-quality psych-tinged garage-punk.  On the surface, this album doesn't differ much from their prior effort Mutilator Defeated At Last, being that it is yet another high-energy and emphatic affair for the most part. But as the record progresses, it does start to distinguish itself from its predecessor somewhat.  A Weird Exits feels a bit more jammy in tone overall, as the band seems interested in spreading out and exploring their more psychedelic and instrumental tendencies, which is most evident on the final third of the album.  "Unwrap the Fiend Pt. 2" is a quirky little instrumental jam which sets the table for the mystical and sedate "Crawl Out From The Fall Out", and the trippy "The Axis" which officially closes out the proceedings on a decidedly psychedelic note before the tune finally collapses in on itself in a glorious dirge of feedback-laden noise.  I mention those final 3 tunes first because the spell they cast on the album somewhat overshadows the chaotic and frenzied proceedings that come before it in a way that is unique to Thee Oh Sees entire catalog (in a good way for the most part). And about those "frenzied proceedings" they are all good (particularly the pulverizing "Ticklish Warrior") but they also kind of come across as business-as-usual for the band.  Technically, they sport more of a grating, higher-pitched quality, as Dwyer somewhat over-relies on guitar solos here as the primary source for the blistering energy in these songs.  This can lead to your ears ringing a bit more than usual on some of these tracks (hence the grating quality), but hard to deny most of these tunes would not be completely bonkers in a live setting.  Also of note is the fact that the band added a drummer here, but you'd be hard pressed to notice as the production does not seem to bring forth the type of power or thump you might expect from a 2-drummer lineup.

So overall, while this is yet another quality release from the band, those minor aforementioned downsides (too trebley, inability to maximize the potential of a 2-drummer output, peculiar (but cool) back third of the album) all contribute to an ever so slightly underwhelming listening experience for yours truly.  Slightly.  A Weird Exits seemed to garner the band the highest praise of their career to date, and while (again) everything is pretty good here, it doesn't quite measure up to their prior album (Mutilator), which means it doesn't really stand out for yours truly as one of their best albums. Top half?  Sure, but it does not strike me as anything particularly special in their catalog overall.

8.1

An Odd Entrances

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Thee Oh Sees

2016

An Odd Entrances was released later in 2016, and is intended to be the mellower/more subdued companion piece to A Weird Exits.  This is essentially a 6 song EP (3 of which are instrumentals) that is pretty much entirely devoted to exploring the band's spacier/more psychedelic tendencies.  And while that may sound like a recipe for an underwhelming/tedious listening experience, An Odd Entrances is actually a pretty listenable and enjoyable album for what it is. That's not to say that Thee Oh Sees haven't created some legitimately good psychedelic moments on past albums, but given the hit-and-miss nature of those experiments, it is understandable to approach this album with some trepidation.  But everything here goes down smoothly and pleasantly for the most part, without being too tedious in the process (with the exception of the underwhelming closer "Nervous Tech"). The opener "You Will Find It Here" effectively channels early 70s Pink Floyd with it's space-rock vibes, and the majestic and enchanting acoustic track "The Poem" somewhat recalls King Crimson at their mellowest/most accessible moments. Standout track for yours truly is naturally the most "rocking" tune on the album "Unwrap The Fiend Pt 1" which is a groovy little instrumental jam that managed to get stuck in my head for days after initially hearing it.  Overall, for what this album is (a 6 song, mostly instrumental, mellow, spacey experiment), it is a high quality one at that.  A nice little detour from the usual pedal-to-the-metal output of late from Thee Oh Sees.

7.7

Orc

Oh Sees

2017

In addition to being one of the best live bands on the planet, Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees) also happen to be a rather prolific bunch. John Dwyer & company regularly make it a habit of releasing an album or two every year in between a consistently grueling touring schedule, so to say Oh Sees are a restless band might be a bit of an understatement.

But the inevitable downside of such productivity is that it only makes it that much more difficult to deliver high quality albums on a consistent basis. However, to their credit, Oh Sees have managed to pull off that very feat for most of this decade, consistently pumping out one solid album after another and enjoying critical acclaim to boot.

But on their latest album Orc, the band seems to be showing some mild signs of fatigue and creative stagnation as a result of all that aforementioned activity. This is most apparent on the album's somewhat underwhelming and tedious back-half, but before we get to that, lets discuss the good stuff shall we?

And there certainly is plenty of good stuff to be found on the album's first half, as the opening track "Static God" aptly demonstrates. This is a classic Oh Sees opening tune here, a jumpy and unhinged little number that is primarily driven by Mr. Dwyer's patented screeching and manic guitar solos. A brooding organ rears it's head around the middle of the tune, casting an ominous aura over the song, before things end the way they started (i.e. in manic fashion). A nice, well-rounded Oh Sees jam that certainly wets the proverbial appetite. 

But the real highlight on Orc, is the absolutely raging "Animated Violence" that comes roaring out of the speakers after the relatively pedestrian "Nite Expo". Simply put, Oh Sees have never sounded more powerful or intense, as "Animated Violence" sports an almost proto-metal feel to it. This is a delightfully vicious scorcher for the most part, but it also features a bit of a brooding mellower part (relatively speaking) that allows you to catch your breath slightly and soak in the chaos that ultimately comes raging back at the end of the tune. "Animated Violence" really finds the Oh Sees clicking on all cylinders and is easily one of the best songs they've ever cooked up to date for yours truly. A downright nasty one!

From there, things tend to settle into a groove to a degree and descend into decidedly mellower and less emphatic territory. "Keys to the Castle" is a mostly instrumental and atmospheric piece that clocks in at over 8 minutes, while "Jettison" is a mildly satisfying little jam that strikes a nice balance between the Oh Sees more unhinged material and their more spacy instrumental inclinations which are on full display on the album's back-half (for better or worse).

And it is that aforementioned back-half where Orc starts to lose it's steam and becomes a borderline tedious listening experience for yours truly. Ultimately, your impression of the album's spacy and mostly instrumental back-half will likely depend on how much patience you have for the seemingly tossed-off nature of the jams found there, or your affinity for experimentation broadly speaking. While I certainly have an appreciation for experimentation, too many of these tunes sound phoned-in, or derivative of their past forays into spacy psych-rock. Take for example "Cadever Dog", which seems to sport virtually the exact same organ pipes featured on the closing track for A Weird Exits ("The Axis"). Then you have two back-to-back instrumentals ("Paranoise" and "Cooling Tower") that essentially just spin their wheels and never really go anywhere or make much of an impression as a result. "Drowned Beast" tries to rev things up with it's B-horror movie, warped garage-doom, but it ultimately doesn't do much to shake the tedium that characterizes the 2nd half of the album. Nor does the final track on the album "Raw Optics" which is kind of a microcosm of the generally unsatisfying and half-baked nature of the dubiously crafted second half.

So overall, it's hard to say Orc is a particularly noteworthy or progressive album in the Oh Sees extensive catalog, in spite of the sheer awesomeness of "Animated Violence". That song almost single-handedly saves Orc from being a borderline mediocre offering. Luckily there are enough decent supporting tracks on the album's first half that spare Orc from that distinction to these ears, but unfortunately the album's latter tracks makes the entire listening experience as a whole, somewhat disappointing and unsatisfying. Not a bad album by any means, just slightly underwhelming compared to their more recent offerings.

7.8

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