Whoever keeps saying the album is dead needs to shut up already. Mp3s, blogs, digital, “wave of the future,” blah blah blah, whatever. I like my iPod as much as the next guy, but even I have entire albums uploaded onto it. The fact of the matter isn’t so much that the album is dead, but that artists in this day and age have gone back to the old school in terms of packaging their music. Stand alone singles seem to be more prevalent than ever, as artists seem to be embracing the idea of singles as singles, separate from the album as a greater whole. But the albums certainly aren’t suffering any. If anything, they’ve gotten more ambitious. This year alone, we’ve seen an abundance of double albums, in fact, one of the most curious of these being OCS’ new two-disc set, 3 & 4.
OCS is a Californian duo consisting of Coachwhips’ John Dwyer and his partner in crime, Patrick Mullins. For a while, OCS was merely a side project for Dwyer, but as his full-time band split, it now seems that OCS is becoming more of a long-term effort for the Bay Area musician. And seeing as how parts three and four of the OCS canon have been released concurrently, it would appear that he’s already spent a lot of time in it already.
Something to take into account, however, is that both discs are reasonably short. They could have fit them all on one disc, however, so each song, as you can imagine, is also pretty short. OCS, much like Coachwhips, favors brevity over heroism, playing accessible, albeit weird, lo-fi ditties. Imagine M. Ward actually being broadcast over an old transistor radio, Devendra Banhart covering Carl Perkins or Sentridoh and Hank Williams playing at the same time in a ghost town saloon, and you’re not too far from the OCS sound. Their sound is surprisingly catchy and fun, though it’s pretty fuzzy, kind of disturbing, and impossible to decipher, lyrically. But when you read the lyric sheet, you discover that Dwyer’s actually singing lines like “If these guns were mountains/you could see them far away” or “your nurses are quite nice/dear doctor man, you incompetent sod.”
Further proving my point that the album is alive and well, OCS not only packaged a double album for us, but the two discs also happen to be parallel concept albums. The first disc, Songs About Death and Dying is pretty much what the title promises, set to folksy pop tunes. Each song is something of a murder ballad, yet in a far more accessible package than a Nick Cave dirge. These are far closer to the derelicts and outlaws found in a Johnny Cash lyric, and musically, they’re not too far off either. “If I Had A Reason” is a hell of a song, almost up to the level of quality of an Elliott Smith, though with much fuzzier production values. “The Pool” is space age new folk, a la Devendra Banhart, complete with raygun sounds and squeaky wheels. And the haunting “Rescue” is one of the best on the disc, with a lyric that’s more romantically morbid than downright ghoulish:
“Deep in my arms, your body did fell
A Chilling ending tonight
Your spirit passed away
Your body was a shell”
The second disc, Get Stoved, is, to the contrary, a set of love songs. They’re not much like Stephen Merritt’s love songs, but they’re not Whitney Houston’s either. These are something else altogether. “Wait All Nite” sounds somewhat like, yep, that’s right, Johnny Cash, only more like “I Walk the Line” than “Cocaine Blues.” But “Devil’s Last Breath” is something different altogether — a one-and-a-half minute folk tune about running away from the Dark Lord. “Friends of St. Thomas” is simple and oddly pretty, with strange electronic sounds chiming in every measure. Also included is a cover of Donovan’s “Get Thy Bearings” done in a bouncy, garagey style befitting to the oddball duo. You know, come to think of it, I don’t think all of the songs on this disc are “love” songs, so to speak, but the album does hold together pretty well.
So the album is alive and well, and all it took were some lo-fi home recording eccentrics to prove it. 3 & 4 didn’t have to be two separate albums, but on their own, they’re easier to take in one sitting. Not to mention that it’s easier to identify each song individually. Dwyer and Mullins might sound like they’re stuck in a 1950s roadhouse somewhere, but the eerie distance in each song just makes it that much more interesting. OCS may not be a “conventional” folk or rock group, so to speak, but their take on American music has resulted in two of the year’s most unusual and strangely enjoyable albums.
Johnny Cash – Love and Murder
Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing in the Hands
Sentridoh – Original Losing Losers
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.