In 2021, for the first year in their existence, Osees did not release an album of original music, which led to an inevitable question: Are John Dwyer and company slowing down? If so, it’s only by their own relentless standards. In 2020 the band released three albums and one EP and in 2021, their supposed quiet year, they toured North America, UK and Europe and released two live albums. Still, this technically counts as a quiet year in Osees-land.
This restless creativity from the San Francisco band has built up an enormous back catalog. A Foul Form is the 26th Osees studio album and there’s a wealth of seven-inches, live albums and rarities compilations for committed fans to get lost in. It’s a wild discography. The base mode on which the Osees’ music is built is a quirky brand of garage rock, however across their prolific career the band have incorporated strands of psych rock, stoner rock, freak folk and all other sorts of experimental weirdness into their singularly strange brew.
A Foul Form is their first out-and-out punk album. Osees have done heavy before, in particular their 2014 album Floating Coffin which features a plethora of obsidian stoner riffs. Avant-punk inflections pepper their mammoth catalog, but this is their first release that prioritizes lean, mean, abrasive punk rock. Seven of the 10 tracks run under two minutes, the guitar tones never waver from brutal distortion and frontman Dwyer yells and snarls through tracks titled “Scum Show,” “Too Late For Suicide” and “Fucking Kill Me”.
The band love confounding expectations and you get the sense that this pared-down approach is a deliberate u-turn from the lengthy jams of previous release Weirdo Hairdo. “Too Late For Suicide” runs at a tight 98 seconds, featuring just a straightforward rhythm overlain by a few notes of chainsaw-toned guitar. “A Burden Snared” is even more slender—81 seconds built on three chords and harsh noise that sounds like the death wail of a broken motorbike. These are the most intensely slight cuts, but illustrate the minimal extremes A Foul Form ventures toward.
Other tracks are comparably more fleshed-out, while still retaining this tight, claustrophobic tone. “Scum Show” is fun, mosh pit-ready and features some of Dwyer’s best shouted vocals. “Perm Cut” is the most expansive, nearly four minutes in length and similar in energy to the band’s garage rock cuts from a decade ago. This lean mode of songwriting and production is bent and warped into different shapes, some of which suffer from familiarity, others from a lack of direction. A few of the most pared-down tracks quickly find themselves at a dead end, while some longer ones run around in aimless circles.
The best tracks are “Scum Show” and the Rudimentary Peni cover “Sacrifice.” These fully indulge in the punk rock playbook while adding just the right amount of Osees quirkiness. But others veer too far into repetition or aimlessness. This hasn’t been an issue for the band on previous releases, but fails here because of the colorless minimalism. Meandering is only fun when there’s flair and brio bolstering the indulgence. A Foul Form is weirdly aimless for such a short, tight album. It’s intriguing to hear Osees try their hand at punk, but it’s far from their most successful diversion.
Label: Castle Face