The Ohsees The Cool Death of Island Raiders

[Narnack; 2006]

Styles: lo-fi blues as played in an echo chamber
Others: Ariel Pink, R.L. Burnside and the Fat Possum camp

Even with a zillion zit-squeezing emo warriors, skit-heavy hip-hoppers, fit-heavy hardcore heroes, Brit-popping dandies, freak-folkers, droners, and whatever else clogging the world with endless piles of music, occasionally a group slips through the cracks of conformity, creating a work pure and ambitious as the gaze of a new-born baby. After wreaking more contrived havoc with the wriggling Pink & Brown and the cagey Coachwhips, John Dwyer has broken through the milky nebula of outside influence with his new project, Ohsees — formerly known as OCS.

The result is a work both bold and beautiful, original and memorable. The purified air whistling from the cracks of The Cool Death of Island Raiders is not only cunningly chilly and refreshing, but inspiring, full of deceptively nuanced notches of twangy guitar, noise, echo, reverb, and the strangest, most alluring vocal presence this side of Jon Thor Birgisson. Don't let the playground innocence of Dwyer's lyrics fool you; he might pass you a note during study hall like a kindergarten cassanova, but instead of finding an expression of affection inside, you'll find a crude drawing of a yak-like creature with human hands getting sprayed in the mouth by a fire hydrant.

What does it all mean? That's a tough one, even after combing Cool Death for answers dozens of times. The title of "The Guilded Cunt" says more than its actual lyrics, the sly request, "Tell me you love me/ Tell me that is all you know to do" connoting a deeper meaning but never pulling the cloth cover away from its mysterious prize. "Broken Stems" is vague in all the right places as well, drawing a colorful diagram of numbers and spots but never fully connecting the dots while a soprano murmur worthy of "Mysterions" dangles overhead like a hawk hovering against the thrust of a stiff breeze.

In Dwyer's world, it's not what you say, but how you say it; context is key, and he communicates more with one of his nose-plugging man-chirps than demi-douches like Ryan Adams manage in a full stanza. Lines like "Island raiders/ Pointed u[p]hill/ They climb up walls and over sill/ They grease our floors with scores and scores of random kills" won't make a deep impression on you plastered across the liner notes, but when filtered through Dwyer they make all the sense in the world. The same goes for the sleeve art: an egg with hollow cut-out eyes, hands raised in a Frankensteinian manner while it munches on a bunch of round fuzzy dealies? Not too evocative; that is, until you hear the Kranky-esque collage of "Drone Number Two" — care of Ohsees first mate Patrick Mullins — lurch in all directions like a translucent belt of vapor.

Island Raiders is filled with gaping foxholes, poised and ready to snag your ankles at any instant despite a steadfast thread of spiked country-blues spooling each song together. It's challenging to endure and at times breathtaking to behold. In this way, our favorite records imitate the high and low points of our lives, providing a soundtrack to our daily dealings all the while. The best part? Even after spending countless hours with this record, you'll still have trouble pinpointing exactly why it speaks to you, the trademark of any moving piece of art. Tute on, Ohsees, tute on!

1. Gilded Cunt, The
2. Dumb Drums, The
3. Turn Off
4. Losers In The Sun
5. Drone Number One
6. Island Raiders
7. Cool Death
8. Broken Stems
9. We Are Free
10. Drone Number Two
11. You Oughtta Go Home

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