When we last checked in with John Dwyer and co., they were busily transitioning the trippy studio tomfoolery of 2012’s Putrifiers II into a harder rocking album about death. Floating Coffin revisited the scalding garage punk of Carrion Crawler/The Dream, imbuing it with a gleeful sense of existential dread and a more polished veneer. And that’s more or less where we expected to leave the band for a while, what with the whole indefinite hiatus thing — except that, in making such an assumption, we forgot that in OhSeean “indefinite hiatus” translates into “a reasonable length of time between records” for the rest of us. So here we are, barely 12 months later since their last album, with yet another quivering lump of psychedelic skin and hair to dissect.
To some extent, Drop splits the difference between Coffin’s garage-punk battering ram and Putrifier’s florid acid-trip weirdness. While there are no classical string arrangements mucking around in the mix, this set as a whole is more measured in its approach. The songs tend to unfurl slowly, the vocals submerged in a syrupy solution of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles effluvium. “The King’s Noise” is the purest example, its softly swaying melody accented by keys tuned to sound like harpsichord. The track leads into the weapons-grade psych of “Transparent World,” which lays Dwyer’s voice (tortured to the point of being unrecognizable by some Kraftwerk-esque vocal processing) over a spidery faux-bassline, all of it eventually settling in the swoony, minimalist denouement, “The Lens.”
Even some of the harder-rocking cuts opt for a less direct approach to bringing the noise, like “Encrypted Bounce,” which sets Dwyer and Lars Fineberg’s stuttering guitar duet against a steady, unyielding rhythm. But some of the more straight-ahead rock tracks don’t fare quite as well. Despite some ferocious soloing, the title track feels a little slight, possibly due to the cleanliness of Dwyer’s multitrack vocals. The yips and yelps that have more or less become his trademark over the years are sorely lacking on Drop. But people looking for a gritty kick in the teeth on the level of “Contraption/Soul Desert” or “I Come from the Mountain” need look no further than the opening track, “Penetrating Eye.” It sports one of the band’s most crushing riffs to date, backed by a wall of shrieking synth, with the whole damn thing culminating in a great big “La la la” chorus.
There’s enough texture and variety to Drop to make it a consistently engaging listen, although on a song-by-song basis, it doesn’t quite stack up to the albums preceding it. For a band as prolific as Thee Oh Sees, it’s kind of amazing how essential their most recent output has felt, with each record bubbling over with great tunes while simultaneously uncovering new possibilities within their chosen medium. If Drop seems a little less radical by comparison, it’s a shortcoming we can easily look past.