Thee Oh Sees Burn The Barn Down Again On “Mutilator Defeated At Last”

John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees is the only Boy Scout in rock’n’roll.  I’m not referring to his lifestyle, about which I know next to nothing.  I am talking about his resourcefulness, in which he can take virtually any material — a button, a line scrawled on a napkin, a rhythm and ragged riff — and fashion it into a song.

Sure, leave Ty Segall in a room with a guitar and he’ll have a song in an hour.  Give Joyce Carol Oates a typewriter and she can probably write a novel in that time.  But Dwyer crafts the most amazing rock’n’roll songs out of single guitar lines, a little falsetto here, a yip there.  At least since 2011’s Carrier Crawler/The Dream, everything Thee Oh Sees have done puts them in the same rare category as young Mr. Segall and his buddy Tim Presley of White Fence: collectively they are saving rock’n’roll, and in Dwyer’s case, seeming to have a real good time doing so.  He is the Happy Warrior: a calm and articulate ringmaster in the eye of a sonic storm.  And now we have Mutilator Defeated At Last, and with it comes assurance that our entire blessed summer looms before us, its soundtrack loaded on our iPhone.

The entire crew at Tulip Frenzy was devastated when word came, late a couple years back, that Thee Oh Sees were going on hiatus.  We hate us bands on hiatus, and it hurt particularly because damn if Floating Coffin wasn’t #2 on Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Ten Best List (c). The situation clarified a bit not long after: while we were despondent that this particular lineup of Thee Oh Sees was taking a break, Dwyer was just moving to LA and working with a different gang o’ kids.  Drop had some good songs on it, but we chalk up 2014 as a transition year.  All the more reason we were so excited both to see ’em at Levitation: Austin Psych Fest earlier this month, and to learn that the road band was holed up in the studio long enough to record Mutilator Defeated At Last.

And the verdict?  The equal of Floating Coffin, for sure, and better than Putrifiers II.  This is the highest praise! We see a few more of Mr. Dwyer’s catholic influences — no, not the church, but Jimi Hendrix (on the intro to “Lupine Ossuary”) and Joy Division (on “Withered Hand.”)  We have all the ingredients that make Thee Oh Sees so boss: double drums powering the proceedings, Dwyer’s deceptively amazing guitar work, and his vocal range, which we think of as the opposite of Don Van Vleet’s.  (Whereas Captain Beefheart had an alleged seven-octave range starting from the bottom, rising from beneath the basement steps, Dwyer’s range starts from the attic, his cool falsetto, occasionally invoked, descends from there.)

At 33 minutes and change, it is of Goldilocks length, even though we coulda stood another song or two.  But look, a guy who is sophisticated enough as a magpie that he could take a little bit o’ rockabilly rumbling, the traditional verse/chorus/nuclear war set up worked over by bands like the Pixies and Nirvana, add a dollop of Fripp and Eno, and on this one even throw in an acoustic song, and you get a sense of what pure genius consists of.  It is a staple of bad advertising to extol the virtues of those who “think outside the box,” and the paradox of John Dwyer is that he does that — oh yeah, there has never been a songwriter who can make so much of so little, and have it be so original and true — even as he plies the very lines of rock’n’roll idiom.

If you’ve yet to dive in, here’s the place to start.  Close your eyes and he’s burning the house down.  Open ’em again and all is right in the world.

One Response to “Thee Oh Sees Burn The Barn Down Again On “Mutilator Defeated At Last””

  1. […] Innocent), it fell to Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer to wave the West Coast freak flag, and on Mutilator Defeated At Last a new version of the band came through like a 21-gun salute.  We were apprehensive about what the […]

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