I’ll be honest. I had never heard of Thee Oh Sees until a few days ago. Perhaps I should have, considering they have been around in various forms for over a decade despite numerous name and lineup changes. The one constant is singer and guitarist John Dwyer, and he is extremely prolific; since 2003, there have been 13 studio albums—as well as various other EPs and compilations—produced by the various manifestations of Thee Oh Sees. It’s probably hard to keep up with it all, even if you are a diehard fan.
It’s easy to assume that such a high volume of output would necessitate a lower quality-control bar. I cannot speak for the other albums, but Drop definitely disproves that. It is an extremely strong collection of garage-psych tracks that successfully avoids the genre’s temptation to sameness. Each track brings its own aspect, and occupies a unique place on the spectrum from straight-up rock beasts to freaky psych wig-outs.
Opener ‘Penetrating Eye’ begins with 40 seconds of meandering organ, drops into a bone-crushing riff and doesn’t let up. There are enough sonic touches to let you know this is indeed a psych band, but the track is far more towards the garage rock side, and it is as visceral as anything you’ll hear this year. Next up is ‘Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Song)’, a chugger that lives up to its parenthetical name with some dissonant, wailing guitar work.
On the psychy side, there are tracks like ‘Savage Victory’, which has a basic, almost krautrock-style rhythm section, allowing the swirling atmospherics to really breathe. ‘The King’s Nose’, meanwhile, is located in the laidback, proggy fields of 60s drugged-out psychadelia, somewhat akin to early Pink Floyd. A whole album of it would be too much—both tedious and too directly retroistic—but in small doses this style provides an uplifting antidote to the rocking out found elsewhere.
This is what Drop is very good at: not overstaying its welcome in either particular stylistic areas or as an album. At only 9 tracks and 31 minutes, there is no time to get bored, and each track contributes something new. Whether I’ll be ready for another Thee Oh Sees album in three months (or whatever ridiculous timescale they’ve got planned) is debatable, but in and of itself Drop is an excellent example of a garage-psych album that hits all the bases without pondering over them.
Photo credits: Jonny Negron/Castle Face Records