If you’ve heard Help, Thee Oh Sees’ record released in 2009, than you’ve pretty much heard Castlemania. That’s not to say there aren’t differences, or that this is at all a bad thing. The band has a pretty consistent sound at this point – scuzzy garage-punk, Troggs-inspired acid-pop – and the truth is, status quo for Thee Oh Sees is pretty goddamn weird. They might not be deviating far from the norm on Castlemania, but the norm includes song titles like “Coprophagist (A Bath, Perhaps).”
The band’s bugged-out flavor of rock and roll is full of yelps, cants and surreal lyrics that are largely produced by frontman John Dwyer. Dwyer’s former band, Coachwhips, was an exercise in controlled chaos, so it should come as no surprise that Thee Oh Sees are a bit unhinged themselves. You still get anarchic, wild garage rock, like on “Corrupted Coffin,” a song that seems to be spinning apart at the seams as the vocals, guitars and drums all race each other to a finish line.
Overall, though, Thee Oh Sees are more about tripped-out ’60s pop. Considering that influence, it’s fitting that they come from San Francisco. Castlemania has Mellotrons, whirling flutes and hypnotic passages that probably sound best under the influence of something psychedelic. What you’re hearing, though, isn’t so much the Summer of Love, with young hippies discovering acid for the first time. It’s more like 1971, when things are still loopy and dream-like, but with an air of menace and paranoia permeating the atmosphere.
The title track is a lot like that, with scary riffs from guitars that sound like they’re melting and choruses that sound close to moans. There’s a touch of the black mass in Thee Oh Sees; despite making pop songs, there’s something unsettling about a lot of their tracks. This one, like Help‘s “Destroyed Fortress Reappears,” sounds incantatory, with Dwyer’s lyrics being chanted rather than sung. His vocals have always been fun to listen to, and you never know whether you’re going to hear chanting, barking or yipping. On “AA Warm Breeze,” the chorus includes a Captain Beefheart impression and haunted house groaning. Overall, it’s another worthy offering from the band, and proof that they’re one of the most noteworthy groups operating out of San Francisco right now.
Thee Oh Sees – Help
Ty Segall – Melted
Coachwhips – Bangers vs. Fuckers
Stream: The Oh Sees – “Corrupted Coffin”