With a band like Oh Sees (née Thee Oh Sees, née OCS, née many other variations of the name), you keep waiting for the inevitable dud to be dropped, especially with the prolific output the band has gained a reputation for. Orc marks the band’s 19th release in this project’s 20 year existence, and with it, comes another hyperbolic batch of praises and huzzahs. The record is an absolutely evil stunner from front to back, top to bottom, head to toes and everywhere in between, and whips up the same kind of radiant, strange awe that the band’s overdriven catalog has so generously perpetrated album after wicked album.
Orc is immediately manic, overdriven, and intense on the roiling opener “The Static God,” forming a pounding fist of screeching guitars that give way to a wordless chorus that pogos in stop-start guitar clangs, and continues to shapeshift and waggle in bizarre backroads of experimentation. Liberated somewhat from the jammy tendencies they explored on the likes of Castlemania and Floating Coffin, and venturing further into the loopy explorations of last year’s A Weird Exits, the band has simply decided to take cues from any twisted source they so desire, smashing it all into an approximation of a rollicking garage-rock basement party.
Still, the band is perhaps more self-aware of its propensities on songs as remarkably off-script as “Animated Violence,” a song so skuzzy, you’d be forgiven were you to mistake it for a Big Business or Melvins tune. So steeped in the wallows of sludge-y guitars and the pulsing percussion of dual drumming tandem Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone is the tune, and so understated the dueling guitar lead that acts as stand-in for vocals on the song’s chorus, that it approaches metal territory. Of course, by the song’s halfway point, it’s morphed into a contemplative, keyboard-lead meditation, and then you’re off to the races, with Dwyer and company brewing strange overtones of instrumentation, unspeakable chord manipulations on seemingly out-of-tune guitars, vocal improvisations, and generally discordant, noisy mayhem.
Giving Oh Sees songs your undivided attention typically yields the best results, and with so many aural wormholes to traverse, its in your best interest to give in to the wild panorama of Dwyer’s rock ‘n’ roll vision quest. To wit, “Keys to the Castle” possesses a stoner-worthy center to its peppy outer-shell, with the song’s middle portion unfurling hypnotic strings, keys, drone-y bass and echo-chamber atmospherics for a narcotic joy ride.
The newly lithe quartet (the band also features bassist Tim Hellman) scratch their Band of Gypsys itches on the trippy “Jettison,” with fluid, rhythmic pummeling and Dwyer expounding an eerily sexy vocal in a hush, just before an orgasmic crescendo of guitar riffage charges in, with Dwyer ruminating, “Who is for indifference, honey?/I’m not sure they know.” Dwyer then yelps and yips like a crazed street degenerate, while a descending guitar pattern simmers to a rough-and-tumble breakdown, and a wiry instrumental follow-up that sounds almost childlike in its anti-technical context. It’s essentially punk rock for the ADD generation, never settling on one killer vibe for too long lest another one might be better cranked up to 11.
Later in the album, the instrumental “Paranoise” ends with the sounds of pattering rain and rolling thunder, leading into a Can-like drum shuffle intro and another instrumental freakout in the form of “Cooling Tower,” a jammy nightmare composition that boogies and jives in all the right ways. “Drowned Beast” kicks in strong, but cools its heels on a hushed verse that finds Dwyer barely muttering his psychotropic vocals over a lush, stringed, space station soundscape.
The album’s finale “Raw Optics” is the cherry on top of the whole strange sundae, as Oh Sees lock into a quirky, progressive-punk jam heavy on the twiddly-dee guitar leads and ceaseless percussive thrust. A mid-song drum isolation is put through flanger and other echoing effects to achieve proper levels of mindfuckery. It’s an extended solo of sorts that takes on tribal ambiance until the scraggly guitars once again enter the aural plane, manipulating the song into melodic eccentricities and playful tonal interplay between bass and guitar.
In its nearly cartoonish mischievousness, Orc sounds like it may as well be narrated by a carnival barker, as Dwyer’s talents as reluctant, psychotic maestro of his very own merry band of pranksters is sent through the halls of a funhouse of sonic insanity. It’s an album tailor-made for acting as soundtrack to the dangerous shadows we all find ourselves enshrouded by from time to time. In the darker places, we can often find pain, lunacy, pleasure, and the mystical unknowns of the surrealness of life. Oh Sees can be your fucked-up weirdo tour guides, if you let them. Orc is as good a place to start your trip as any.