A Weird Exits
Embrace the squall
by Jericho Cerrona
The 11th studio album from prolific San Francisco garage rockers Thee Oh Sees is a defiantly guitar-driven beast, and that's really saying something if one has been following the cult of John Dwyer. The ringleader/vocalist/guitarist and only remaining member of the band has been on an extended "hiatus" since 2013, which of course, has lead to three studio albums in the last two years, including 2015's Mutilator Defeated at Last.
A Weird Exits sounds exactly like what one expects from Thee Oh Sees; fuzzed-out guitar solos, breakneck drumming, acid-fueled psychedelic noodling, and Dwyer's high-pitched wails, but it also finds room to throw in a few curveballs, especially in the album's second half. Even with the band's insane productivity, there's been a lingering sense of sameness over the past few releases, with each one coming across as minor variations on a sound perfected by the band back in the early '00s. Aside from the brilliantly wonky Castlemania, which played like a series of solo recordings in the Syd Barrett mode, Thee Oh Sees have settled into a comfortable groove where genuine surprises have been few and far between.
This time out, there's two drummers (Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon, respectively), who bring a muscular sense of tightness to tracks like opener "Dead Man's Gun", with it's chugging guitar chords, blown out dissonance, and typical "wooo!" yelp breakdown, and stoner metal thrash session "Ticklish Warrior." From there, things more interesting with "Jammed Entrance", an instrumental where deranged effects pedals and hacksaw analog synths battle for attention, and "Gelatinous Cube", which gives us some of that demon-voice Dwyer from the Castlemania era and allows Moutinho and Rincon to rampage like madmen on their respective kits. Meanwhile, both "Unwrap the Fiend, Pt. 2" and "Crawl Out From the Fallout" are slower and spacier than typical Oh Sees efforts, but the real standout is closer "The Axis". With it's church-like organ swells, relaxed soloing, and oddly touching lyrics, the track is a six-minute 70's-tinged ballad which is quite possibly the most haunting thing the band has come up with yet. Known mostly for relentless energy and cacophonous shredding, Thee Oh Sees prove here that they could one day transition into something looser and more refined.
A Weird Exits doesn't rewrite the book on Dwyer's particular brand of glam/garage/pysch, but what it does is feature enough slight wrinkles in the band's DNA to suggest a possible shift into more experimental territory. For now, though, it's business as usual for everyone's favorite purveyors of guitar-driven squall; which means, of course, there's likely another slew of records coming down the pipeline before this apparent hiatus ends.