It was the glowing endorsements of 6Music ‘trad indie’ DJ Marc Riley that first tempted me to investigate (Thee) Oh Sees. I have to admit I was a tad disappointed at what I found, a neat formula of sixties garage rock and Krautrock, with a dash of psychedelia operating within the boundaries already set within those genres. Competently executed, well produced, tasty guitar tones but under-utilising the twin drum attack – but then I’ve been spoiled on that front by recent listens to the Fela Kuti meets Ginger Baker live album that takes two master drummers and launches into the stratosphere.
I was listening to 6Music (Marc Riley again) and he drops this absolute monster tune. Turns out it’s an Oh Sees track from their forthcoming album Orc. Time for this Oh Sees dilettante to reinvestigate…
The track in question, ‘Animated Violence’, sounds like Oh Sees having a stab at doom and coming up trumps. Guitars hover like a swarm of angry hornets, sweeping between octaves hoovering up air and light in a black hole of sound. The twin drum attack propels the whole thing forward and the gruff vocals whether ironically or sincerely deployed work well. I’m banging my head, fists aloft, carried by the majestic current of noise. There are also dynamics in the track – Oh Sees deploy the loud/quiet/loud trick a lot – some marvellous guitar/bass interplay and a fab coda too. ‘Animated Violence’ is a mini epic that gives doom masters Electric Wizard a good run for their money in sheer sonic depravity.
Unfortunately such heights of driving force aren’t reached again at any point on Orc. ‘Cadaver Dog’ comes across like early Pink Floyd with its droning organ tones. ‘Cooling Tower’ has a whimsical psychedelic vibe sketched out in melodic analogue synth doodle and rolling stuttering drums and more bass/guitar interplay. Song structures are simple A/B blocks.
‘Drowned Beast’ raises the bar again with more of that monstrous hoover guitar before shifting into more pastoral English psychedelia. Then, you guessed it, back to the noisy loud bit, then a chunk of quiet. ‘Keys to the Castle’ ups the tempo to a motorik autobahn cruise with more loud/quiet alternations and odd vocal stylings that come across as a curmudgeonly hermit having a mild grump. The guitar/bass riffing picks things up before descending into a half tempo dirge. Nice drones. Cool keys. Lovely strings reminiscent of Jane’s Addiction stretching out on Ritual de lo Habitual.
I’m enjoying this album but have yet to fall in love with it. I can’t help feeling that Oh Sees need to short circuit their formulas, move out of their comfort zone and stretch out a little bit, push further. If you already like Oh Sees you will like this but if you’re a newcomer like me you may be wondering what all the fuss is about, whilst admiring the occasional flashes of brilliance. If your tastes run to the more exotic your hunger will be better sated elsewhere.
Maybe Oh Sees are one of those bands I need to experience live to ‘get’, in the same way albums by Sunn 0))) and Lightning Bolt are mere homeopathic doses of the colossal skull-crushing power of hearing them in the flesh. I hope to get back to you on that one at some point. Judging by the speed at which tickets to their live shows fly, that theory may hold water…