What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Thee Oh Sees? Probably their riot-sparking live show, right? Visions of a guitar-chewing, melody-maiming John Dwyer careening across your cranium, rounded out by a wild-eyed wrecking crew that drives every last hook home like it’s a nail in the coffin of what you thought it meant to make 21st century rock ’n’ roll?
Yeah, that sounds about right. But it misses a more important point—how impossible Thee Oh Sees have been been to pin down since Dwyer launched it in the late ‘90s as a solo break from such sorely missed underground bands as Pink and Brown and Coachwhips. (While Dwyer still records songs on his own, Thee Oh Sees is now a five-piece featuring keyboardist/singer Brigid Dawson, guitarist Petey Dammit, drummer Mike Shoun, and multi-instrumentalist/singer Lars Finberg.)
That restlessness extends to everything from the towering, 13-minute title track of 2010’s Warm Smile LP to the mercurial moods of 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In. And then there’s the Bay Area band’s recent track record, as Thee Oh Sees chased the home-brewed symphonies of Castlemania with the scrappy high wire hooks of Carrion Crawler/The Dream. Originally envisioned as two EPs, it was cut live to tape in less than a week at Chris Woodhouse’s Sacramento studio in June, reflecting the battering ram bent of the band’s live show better than any bootleg ever could.
“As I’m sure most would agree,” explains Dwyer, “Castlemania was more of a vocal tirade. This one’s meant to pummel and throb.”
That it does, whether you blast the slow, speaker-bruising build of “The Dream,” the sunburnt organs and dovetailing guitars of “Crack In Your Eye,” or the interstellar instrumental that is “Chem-Farmer,” a perfect example of what happens when you take a well-oiled machine—a gang of rabid road warriors, really—and add a second, groove-locked drum set to the mix. To listen is to realize that Dwyer’s music is as manic as the underground comic inclinations of his artwork; colorful and confusing in a way that’s more than welcome. It’s downright refreshing, like a slap in the face at 5 in the morning.
Or as Dwyer puts it, “You have to leave a mark somehow.”