Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux, ND Filter.
Just like last year! People come up to us on the street, and ask if we have the new Thee Oh Sees album. Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-ASPH, ND filter.
Just before Christmas, as the staff at Tulip Frenzy World HQ were deep into the eggnog, word spread that Thee Oh Sees were going on “extended hiatus.” Even allowing for the notion that for a band as prolific as John Dwyer’s SF outfit has been since 2006, that probably meant only a few months delay until the next ‘un, it cast quite a pall. Everyone avoided the mistletoe. By the time the lights were pulled on the Xmas tree, by the time the pizza crust was swept into the trash bag, everyone was ready to go home.
Thankfully, Dwyer’s just released Drop, and though the “band” is missing the delectable Brigid Dawson and that red-hot rhythm section of Petey Dammit! and Mike Shoun — the cohorts who helped propel Floating Coffin into the coveted #2 spot on the 2013 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) — this is a real Thee Oh Sees album. Which is to say it is a work of undiluted, 100 Proof rock’n’roll genius. It will be the soundtrack to Tulip Frenzy’s Easter Egg Hunt tomorrow, let us tell you. The Easter Bunny will surely bounce his little cottontail off.
So Dwyer has moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in search of lebensraum. Oddly, Drop was recorded in Sacaramento, but rather than bring along his pals from the most recent incarnation of Thee Oh Sees, he holed up with producer Chris Woodhouse (who plays decent enough drums) and a gang that includes Mikal Cronin. If you are expecting some vast departure from the sound that has so delighted us on the last two Thee Oh Sees records — the amazing Putrifiers II and of course Floating Coffin – you’ve probably misunderstood just what Dwyer has evolved into. He could recruit the checkout clerks from a Vons Supermarket and quickly get them up to snuff, churning out melodic punk rock that spans the gamut from the Ty Segall Band to the Beatles.
We will no doubt report in more in the days ahead; overnight, this thing dropped into our iTunes library like a Faberge egg. Let us just say that the polymath Mr. Dwyer, whose production chops helped actualize Tim Presley’s White Fence project into one of the best albums of 2013, whose Vinegar Mirror was such a cool photo project somehow we are staring at two of them, and whose last several albums with Thee Oh Sees — however they are configured — could singlehandedly restore our faith in the magical elixir that is real rock’n’roll… let us just say that it already is clear that Drop is the Big One, a career-worthy collection of songs that could be a desert-isle compilation of raw goodness. Happy Ishtar.
Last time out, in 2012, Woods’ Bend Beyond shocked the Western world when it beat out Ty Segall to take Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Year honors. Maybe their amazing show at DC’s Red Palace helped sway the judges. But as we noted then, Bend Beyond was one of those mythical Perfect Albums, as rare as a pitcher’s Perfect Game, with an astonishing sound and not a note out of place.
We saw them again in the summer of 2013, and they gave hints at what a good album With Light And Love, released this week, would turn out to be. It is a bright, confident follow up to a masterpiece, and there is no let down, no disappointment. Does that automatically make it, too, a masterpiece? Not necessarily, though it means we have come to expect the extraordinary with Woods, and they seem perfectly at ease in delivering it.
With Aaron Neveu now a full-fledged member of the band, and we presume that’s Kevin Morby on bass — their photo on the Woodsist website does not have Morby, whose excellent solo album, Harlem River, was released late last year, but we think that’s him — the twin-guitar sound of Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Tavaniere continues to ply the line between the best Topanga Canyon 12-string chimes and the sonic-rocket-to-the-moon psychedelia for which their lives shows are so notable. And Jeremy Earl’s voice continues to be a sui generis marvel, causing Robert Plant, Al Green, and the Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 to all stand back, their mouths agape.
What’s different here is evident from the start, wherein album opener “Shepherd” has a pedal steel and Nicky Hopkins piano sound, a postcard from whatever country locale Woods has arrived in, far out of town and in touch with their Flying Burrito Brothers. We suppose that Woods — a Brooklyn band that records Upstate — has a shorter distance to travel than Darker My Love did when they veered into chiming ’60s country rock with Alive As You Are ( another Perfect Album that took Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year honors. And in fact, Tim Presley plays on this ‘un.) The country vibe sure is lovely, but better yet comes the Dylanesque “Leaves Like Glass,” whose instrumentation sounds like the tape was left rolling during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. We would dare anyone to listen to “Twin Steps” and not immediately plan on proceeding, with the missionary zeal of a programmed zombie, to catch this band live. And while the 9:07 title track sums up this band’s virtuosity and complexity in spades, it’s “Moving To The Left” that harkens, ironically, to the right of the radio dial, where in a perfect world it would remain, being played over and over throughout the summer months.
This doesn’t mean we expect Woods to storm the record charts. We’re both realistic and at completely at odds with the way hits are manufactured to by this time have hope that a band this fine will be properly rewarded in this lifetime. We should note, however, that there is not an insurmountable difference between With Light And Love and a Broken Bells record; we could actually imagine a radio programmer listening to “Moving To The Left” and being inspired to do the right thing, his corporate masters notwithstanding.
Perhaps, you say, it is too much to expect that even a band that creates Perfect Albums can rally the masses. Perhaps we should think of Woods like that restaurateur that has foodies flock from across the globe to eat in his 32-seat epicurean marvel, the strange combination of sea urchins and wholesome grains utterly beguiling, with a smallish but knowing army of disciples certain they’ve discovered something special, even if it would be hard to get everyone to understand.
No, we reject that concept. Woods are a marvel, worthy of superstardom, and if you’ve yet to understand this, start here, With Light and Love.
And go see them next weekend, with Quilt, at The Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C.