John Dwyer may be one of the more obscure figures witin the San Francisco music scene (nationally, at least), but he’s also someone that deserves more attention than he receives. He’s a prolific songwriter and has been a member of several different bands including Pink and Brown, Yikes, Hospitals and the Coachwhips. Of all of these incarnations, Dwyer is best known for the Coachwhips, a loud, messy, punk, blues rock concoction that frequently put crowds into a mass frenzy. His latest project, The Ohsees, is decidedly less kinetic. Originally known as Orinoka Crash Site (OCS), Ohsees started as a side project to the Coachwhips, a showcase for Dwyer’s experimental home recordings. Over the years, Ohsees has taken center stage and has morphed from a solo project to a full-fledged band.
Sucks Blood is The Ohsees’ fifth album and with the addition of a full band, the record has a more rounded sound and recalls the visceral sound of the Coachwhips. Like past Ohsees albums, Sucks Blood has a droning, reverb-soaked sound that comes off like a lo-fi Velvet Underground album. Recorded by Kelley Stoltz, the album has an intimate sound, like the band is playing right in the room with you.
Opening track “It Killed Mom” is the most similar to a Coachwhips song. It has the fuzzed out electric guitars and the simplistic beat, but unlike Coachwhips songs, the tempo is much slower, creating a hypnotic mood. While the Coachwhips lifted many ideas from Garage rock and the blues, The Ohsees seek their influences from roots music and psychedelia. “Sucks Blood” is a song that wouldn’t seem out of place on the corner of Haight-Ashbury in 1967. Its languid tempo and use of the singing saw gives the song an otherworldly feel and at times recalls Galaxie 500.
“The Gouger” is a twangy ballad that gives a cracked and distorted image of the country song. It’s this distortion of American musical traditions that have always made the Ohsees and John Dywer such an interesting listen. He takes musical influences like roots music, the blues and country and throws them into a blender to create jumbled, crass sounding music that is wildly familiar but intensely experimental. Not all of these concoctions work that well. Take “You Make Me Sick, Oh Yeah,” the song drones, and is laced with intricate guitar work but its lumbering pace makes the song more boring than languid. “The Killer” is a track to skip over as it’s just a minute and a half of weird, pulsating noise.
John Dwyer is an interesting figure in music and his experimental take on musical traditions makes him someone to follow. Personally, I think I prefer the more kinetic work of the Coachwhips, but there his work with the Ohsees is just as fascinating. Ultimately, Sucks Blood is like the musical version of a Grindhouse film. It’s purposefully loosely thrown together and rough around the edges. It’s not for everyone, but for some it’s an off-kilter treat.
The Coachwhips – Bangers vs. Fuckers
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Worn Copy
Cat Power – Dear Sir