Being prolific often leads to diminishing returns. Most listeners will probably agree that more of an artist’s music is a good thing, but after a certain point, the material can become unwieldy. I don’t know who’s got their hard drive full of Robert Pollard’s complete recorded output, but there’s likely not room for much else. And yet, there’s something admirable, even worthy of celebration, of an artist with the good sense not to leave listeners waiting for too long before the next musical fix. Bay Area garage rocker John Dwyer is one such performer whose catalog contains no extended gaps, having released music with a variety of bands like Coachwhips and Pink & Brown at the beginning of the `00s before ultimately settling on a regular schedule of one album with his primary band, Thee Oh Sees, every year. In lesser hands, this sort of consistency might grow a bit too comfortable, yet as Putrifiers II — their eighth album in eight years — reveals, that level of commitment is also accompanied by an ongoing refinement that has yielded their best album to date.
On an aesthetic level, Putrifiers II carries many of the characteristics that likewise made the band’s garage-pop gems Castlemania and Warm Slime such trippy, delirious pleasures. In that sense, PII isn’t a dramatic departure; rather, it’s a concentration of the band’s strengths distilled to their most potent. Dwyer’s songwriting has never been stronger, though it’s always been strong, and for a landscape already choked with garage rock clichés and traditionalists, Thee Oh Sees continue to find new places to explore within their raw psychedelia.
In fact, as scruffy garage rock albums go, Putrifiers II displays an astonishing level of variety. It gets off to a roaring start with “Wax Face,” a blistering rocker that’s all fuzz and falsetto wails, stomping and sputtering with swagger. Yet, despite a continuance of the fuzz with which the album began, “Hang A Picture” takes a more laid-back sun-soaked approach, one that proves even prettier, not to mention catchier. “So Nice” is where things start to get a little weirder, a better tuned string-laden arrangement reminiscent of “Venus in Furs” scoring a narration about nostalgic days of fat kids getting high. It’s tempting to call it pastiche, but the band’s own melodic, playful spin is what pulls it out from the tribute trap. It wouldn’t be a Thee Oh Sees record without things getting at least a little bizarre, though, but before Dwyer opens the floodgates all the way, the band serves up the strongest pop song on the record, “Flood’s New Light,” a dynamo of head-bopping beats, handclaps and a wonderfully giddy “ba-ba-ba” chorus.
The focus on some of Thee Oh Sees’ catchiest, most gorgeous pop songs to date may leave some wondering where the psychedelic headfucks went. No need to worry; the band has never wanted for headfucks and a fair amount of them surface on the album’s second half. These include the Syd Barrett-style psych spiral of the title track, the `50s-era Lynch-hole of “Will We Be Scared?”, a krautrock freakout in “Lupine Dominus,” and eventually a return back to jangle-pop melody in “Goodnight Baby.” There’s a lot going on throughout Putrifiers II, but the band maintains a concise songwriting style that’s always melodic, even when it’s at its strangest. With the kind of one-album-per-year schedule Thee Oh Sees have maintained for close to a decade, it can be easy to overlook the strides they’ve made, but the proof is in Putrifiers II. This is the album they’ve been building toward.
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.