Thee Oh Sees end hiatus early with thirteenth LP Drop

Music Columnist Patrick McKenna reviews the California punk outfit’s latest record

At any given time period in the last 100 years, music has been revolutionized on big and small scales. You have the kings of rock, like Elvis, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who created their own personalized sound that would go on to inspire millions of musicians.

But music fanatics can’t forget the impact of the small guys — the groups with little commercial success who also helped inspire teenagers worldwide to pick up an instrument and start a band. From The Velvet Underground in the 60’s to Pavement in the 90’s, there are plenty of groups who may not make Billboard’s Top 100,but sure as hell know how to motivate teenage dreamers.

Thee Oh Sees, a California-bred psychedelic-garage rock band, are a perfect example of a band who may not be well recognized by the masses but created music poignant enough to influence punk’s biggest current acts like FIDLAR, together PANGEA and Ty Segall.

With plentiful fuzz and ferocious drumming, Thee Oh Sees were one of the first bands to start the California kick of groups centered on a resurgence of garage/punk rock (Ty Segall, one of garage rock’s current icons, opened for Thee Oh Sees at the beginning of his career).

Group leader/vocalist John Dwyer, like Segall, has an unflinching productive nature to him, leading Thee Oh Sees to release nearly two albums a year since their formation in 1997. From that point on, after multiple lineup changes, the band has gained recognition in the underground rock world for being heavily influential and enormously talented.

Their sound seems to be everything California rock has ever stood for thrown into a blender and coming out as a chaotically loud and lavish presentation of punk. On their latest LP Drop, Thee Oh Sees offer a taste of their always flowing “flower-power-meets-a-wave-of-mutilated-garage” distinct sound, while undergoing even further experimenting with loops and structural motions.

The new record’s change of pace has more to do with Dwyer’s personal performance. Dwyer handles nearly every instrument by himself, with random guest spots filling the space left open without Thee Oh Sees usual squad, such as fellow Bay Area thrasher star Mikal Cronin, who provides saxophone. On “Encrypted Bounce,” a standout track, and “The Lens,” Cronin’s sax keeps the pattern of experimentation standing resilient for Thee Oh Sees’ sound, with or without the regular members.

Drop has a build-up nature to it. With this set theme, some songs build into beautiful skyscrapers made of exploding, distorted riffs so invasive they might as well be pillaging a town, and some fall off into would-be powerhouse tracks that seem to be missing a moment of punk euphoria, like a heavy drum backbeat of some necessary backbone-like bass.

The record opens up with its strongest track, “Penetrating Eye,” a winding and spinning psychedelic odyssey filled with Dwyer’s typical squeezed-out, moaned vocals on top of some hair-raising distorted guitar licks. But the album slowly loses stamina with each song after “Eye,” giving the album an underwhelming second half.

Shades of the older, glory-days Thee Oh Sees are evident on Drop, but tracks like “King’s Nose” and “Drop” are direct examples of how the simple-nature garage rock sometimes leads to the “shoulda coulda woulda” songs going from Pitchfork’s Best New Music to throwaway tracks.

Dwyer, a man uncaring for critical reception of his massive collection of work, seems to be focusing on fine-tuning his psych-pop sound. As a listener, I can say he’s doing the right thing, as long as he knows it doesn’t always work out perfectly. But hey, I’m aware he’s just filling his time translating the sounds of his mind into the sounds of Drop. After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.

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