Album Review: Thee Oh Sees, “Mutilator Defeated at Last”

Thee Oh Sees Mutilator Defeated at Last
(Castle Face Records – May 18, 2015)
Review by M. Kay

Thee Oh Sees – a band that is 1 part revolving door collaborative and two parts front man piloted behemoth. Main talent John Dwyer is as prolific as he is varied and does not seem to be slowed any by the recent switch back to Castle Face Records (a blow to one of my favorite labels, In the Red Records). The latest album under Thee Oh Sees moniker, Mutilator Defeated at Last, is jangly psych freak out. While it certainly doesn’t lack the clear 70s anchor (in both senses) Dwyer and crew are known for, Mutilator is a stand out album for its aggressive hooks, full production, and good ol’ fashioned fun.

Mutilator stands at nine tracks, tied for second shortest Oh Sees album with last year’s Drop. Because of this (relatively) new found brevity on Dwyer’s part, each track forms a much more cohesive whole then say the nebulous Castlemania. “Web” is the most impressive opening track for Thee Oh Sees to date. Aggressive delay and reverb bounce right off of the stripped down bass tones courtesy of the hopefully permanent bassist Timothy Hellman. Previous Oh Sees fans will recognize Dwyer’s somewhat twitchy verse stylings. If you like that from previous albums no problem, if you don’t, it doesn’t matter at all once you hear that chorus: a shattered wail enveloped by the loving hands of 70s psych.

That’s not to say that Thee Oh Sees latest endeavor heirs wholly on the side of the heavy (and consistently overproduced) elements of neo-psych such as The Black Angels. Case in point, “Withered Hand” is simultaneously tinny and explosive. It’s the broken speaker you love to death. Squeezed somewhere between a well written B-side from Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Orange Goblin, “Withered Hands” is the blistering meteor of this album, if only because it demonstrates what Mutilator is all about – fuck what you know, we do what we want. That punk rock kick in the face might have reduced the album to break-beat tedium if not for “Poor Queen,” a delicious mash up of Thee Oh Sees new found production style. Of particular note is Hellman’s continual experimentation. Seriously, these grooves could strip the paint from a Frank Black album.

In an attempt to not fanboy this album any longer, let’s talk about “Turned Out Light.” The weakest track by far on the album, it reeks of Wolfmother only marginally redeemed by a down-temp chorus. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll bop your head to it, but it’s clearly a tempo hit for the album as a whole as its riff driven refrain feels cheesy and superfluous. Composition wise it all makes sense, it just rings hollow.

Gear change; let’s talk about the curiously titled “Lupine Ossuary.” This acid-dipped road rash is nothing but a blast. Canned Heat bass lines cranked up to the big double 1 can barely compete with the drummer duo from hell – Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon – and their absolutely devastating consistency. This is your maximum volume freak out with all the right blips and bops of sound and static. Thee Oh Sees ladies and gentleman. And now back to first gear with “Sticky Hulks.” Well, you won’t soon forget the title. While thematically in step with the 70s throwback style, the organ centric opening does not do the already tired and predictable 7 minute spectacle any favors. Hulks is well composed with gorgeous instrumentation and touchful shoegaze elements, but it’s an homage piece through and through. One would find this track on any neo-psych album today and it’s constant waffling between solo sections and beach party chorus lines.

In direct juxtaposition to “Stick Hulks” are the twin attack tracks – “Holy Smoke” and “Rogue Planet.” Essentially, strip out the disparate elements of Hulks and distill them into a psych sauna and a planet buster. The result is two of the best tracks on the album. For those oddballs out there who look to stuff like anime for musical difference, “Rogue Planet” would fit right at home in the manic FLCL or Space Dandy. Dwyer’s brit-razor vocals are in top form on Rogue Planet. The album’s conclusion “Palace Doctor” is a slow burn stomp akin to QOTSA’s latest album …Like Clockwork in terms of composition and tone without the bluster and self-importance. As an album closer it seems strangely out of place in the same way that “Sticky Hulks” feels out of place as a midpoint. But where Hulks is an overburdened beast, “Palace Doctor” prophesizes like a crooning prelude to future Oh Sees projects and lulls you into starting the album over in a post-modern loop (see Danielewsky’s House of Leaves).

Who or whatever the Mutilator is, I can say with great joy that it is vanquished in multi-colored glee. Thee Oh Sees’s Mutilator Defeated at Last is what all you psych lovers have been waiting for – an anthem.

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