Thee Oh Sees Mutilator Defeated At Last

[Castle Face; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: noise rock, psych rock, punk rock, garage rock, pop rock, kraut rock, rock ‘n’ roll
Others: Clinic, Oneida, Deerhoof, Vaz, Ty Segall, King Tuff, Times New Viking

New Oh Sees? Yes, please! So the “Cough Syrup in Yogurt” vinyl is long gone, but there’s still this drenched-ass bundle of sinister insectoid reverberations with which to wreck your digital palate. Besides, if a CD is packaged well (great artwork as ever), is it not just as charming a collectible/domicile enricher? Sleek micro-technology will never replace the need many of us have to be ensconced with a cozy degree of clutter. And even if one doesn’t buy a three-dimensional form of Oh Sees material, that doesn’t mean it won’t be just another clutch of files in our digital space — something to get to later, after you’ve finished unpacking this or that. While this mighty band is a steady and welcome friend in the increasingly oversaturated atmospheres we inhabit, they are also a careworn and restless reminder not to take rock’s stubborn continued momentum for granted. At its best, rock is a positive force, inspiring action and self-confidence; at its worst, it renders those things somewhat less-than-virtuous. Thee Oh Sees are, as ever, a go-to rock & roll force for good. They are now the near-decade culmination of mining some of the very rarest of punk/psych hooks and unbridled ferocity that has yet to be matched by any of their post-2k peers.

One really shouldn’t call this music retro, even though it’s partly fitting. There is a lank, hairy 60s German gentleman raving from a levitated lotus position at the heart of these jams. But this gentleman was as ahead of his time, as Dwyer & co. are very much a part of their own. He knew the hippy signifiers were only as strong as their aesthetic resonance, their ability to match the body with the sound. The key surviving element of the 1960s is not just psychedelic drugs, but a healthy, unfearing reverence for what drives us to alter our perceptions in the first place. It’s like rushing outside during inclement weather. Thee Oh Sees have always been the reassuring voice in the eye of the storm. It’s absurd. Your arms are being ripped off at 100 MPH. A flaming gas station just whirled past you like an enormous boomerang. Your laughter and tears compact to the back of your skull. It’s utter delirium, but it’s not yours to quell, so let it do what it’s gonna do and be at peace. Even when loping along through the cosmos during the brief third-act respite “Holy Smoke,” there is a queasy sense of a dense sideways schrapnel rain on the horizon. We are on edge, but we are ready to be released. Not taking ourselves too seriously, but not incredulous. Abstruse and gangly, but somehow poised. Wide-eyed and starved for the fray.

What makes Mutilator Defeated At Last such a highlight in an already more or less bulletproof discography (with LPs released, for a time, twice a year) is hard to say. It’s tempting to go the “really captures their incendiary live show” route here, but they’ve been on point in that regard since 2008. Perhaps it’s just bigger on simpler terms, whereas last year’s Drop was bigger in terms of compositional complexity (not that “Penetrating Eye” doesn’t kick the front door to splinters). As a dum-dum who oftentimes just wants something to bang my head to, I was a bit disappointed with Drop after the full-tilt pummeler that was Floating Coffin. That same faded-cord prog flirtation makes itself known here, mostly on the long, languid “Sticky Hulks,” with its “Whiter Shade of Pale”-organ tone and exploratory soloing (not to mention those candied medieval song titles). But these mothballed accoutrements have been sewn so seamlessly into the band’s ruff ‘n’ tumble swagger as to make these reservations seem like little more than idle nitpicking. Like a punk Zeppelin by way of Silver Apples, Thee Oh Sees have consistently flaunted a full-torque, godhead propulsion with the soul of a bemused dragonfly. They are always as viscerally fun as they are idiosyncratic, making any twist to their oeuvre a step in the right direction.

A lesser known but nonetheless fine rock tradition of the song-sequel is implemented here with the continued greasefire hurricane of the “Lupine” saga. It’s a fine continuation of the Putrifiers II rave-up and a definite highlight, whether it gives unwitting listeners déjà vu or not. It’s a taut reminder of their formidable shared musculature, where closer “Palace Doctor” slinks and rolls into the sunset scene like some ropey teal cat. Its wistful harmonized “woos” take me back to a time when the limber anthems of Jane’s Addiction were fresh and mysterious and not merely something one loosely associates with RHCP or Entourage. But it’s not nostalgia that drives it, just the tried-and-true elements of what has already come, which continues to be vital in new hands. Thee Oh Sees are keen students of both the restrictions and liberations of rock music, and therefore continue to thrive with the glad clutter that is reinforcement over renovation of their sound. Until they close up shop (and no doubt long after), our ears and limbs will ever be their bliss-strained, ragged old chew toy.

Links: Thee Oh Sees - Castle Face

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