On “Orc,” Thee Oh Sees’ 19th Album, John Dwyer Makes A Statement

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Orc is, if you can believe it, Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album.  Though it’s their first album under the name “Oh Sees.”  Whatever this is, however you count it or categorize it, John Dwyer has by now built such a confounding, amazing, gorgeous, pulverizing body of work there should be a monument to him just outside the Temple of Real Rock’n’Roll.

Less than four years ago Santa put a lumpa coal in our Christmas stocking with the news that Thee Oh Sees were breaking up.  It was particularly disheartening because the gang at Tulip Frenzy had just voted Floating Coffin the #2 album on that year’s Top Ten List (c). Lo those many years ago, we wrote, “You have no idea what Thee Oh Sees are going to come out with next!  A No Wave rock opera.  Speed-metal yodeling.  Eddy Cochran backed by zithers. We are completely serious: this is a band that through sheer dint of trying proves every mother’s maxim that if only little Johnny puts his mind to it, he can do anything.  If little Johnny is John Dwyer, the answer is yes, yes he can.  And you would be well advised to catch up.”  Have to say it, that was good advice then, and now.

If John Dwyer had thrown in the towel then, he would have assumed his rightful place in history; that here we are, four years and five albums later, and his replacement unit from the Oh Sees classic of the early part of this decade has now fused into nothing less than a machine and you can see why we are so thrilled that Orc has joined the party.

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Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what was then called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s “Keys To The Castle,” we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And there there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.

We’d say he does that on every song, but in fact, “Keys To The Castle” is both a standout and also, if you’ve been paying attention, just exactly what we’ve come to expect from the impossible-to-pin-down Mr. Dwyer and his morphing set of musicians and band names.

For the past six or seven years, we have lived in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the presence of John Dwyer, Ty Segall, and White Fence’s Tim Presley.  If the advance word on Wand’s new rec is right, add Cory Hanson to the list of West Coast genies making life worth living.  John Dwyer’s band(s) have pushed forward a 60+-year old genre in part by reconciling all its best pieces.  On Orc, he makes a statement.

And did we mention that just yesterday came word that Thee Oh Sees’ 20th album will be released in… November.  It is said to be coming out under the band’s original name, OCS, and will be “pretty, pastoral, folky, with string arrangements by Heather Locke and brass arrangements by Mikal Cronin.”  We cannot fucking wait.

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