Originally formed by San Francisco artist John Dwyer as a means to release his bedroom demos, Thee Oh Sees has catapulted to the forefront of the garage rock scene. The band gained the momentum they needed with the albums Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion and Help. They arrived during a period when fellow garage rockers Black Lips were forcing the media to pay attention to the genre. Since then the band has released records every year (including three in 2009) and expanded their fanbase with each release. Their most recent record Castlemania, released earlier this year, kept that tradition and brought even more attention. Packed with short quirky songs that sounded like bedroom demos but still had a strong sense of ambition, Castlemania showed off Dwyer’s songwriting talent. Not content with releasing just one record in 2011, this San Francisco quartet has returned with Carrion Crawler/The Dream, an album that exemplifies that full band aspect of Thee Oh Sees.
Carrion Crawler/The Dream is mostly about preferences. Would you rather have a band that is quirky and different or a band that is musically tight? This particular record falls under the latter category. For a band whose catalogue consists mainly of two-minute tracks, the addition of a six-minute long opener is somewhat out of left field. However this particular opener, “Carrion Crawler,” is a sign of what’s to come. Unlike previous Thee Oh Sees releases, this one focuses more on the instrumentation as opposed to Dwyer’s vocals and lyrics. The guitars play a strong role here, constructing and developing the main riff that drives the track while Dwyer takes a backseat.
Following the opener we get “Contraption/Soul Desert” which is rowdy and dirty. The crunching guitars kick in and evolve from just repeated chords to solos. Dwyer screams and croons his incoherent lyrics. The drums really take the cake here- it’s not the proficiency that makes them shine, but rather the intensity. This track is one of those moments where you can feel the energy radiating from the band, as well as the fun they probably had while recording the track.
One of the most charming things about this record is the bass lines. Most tracks begin with a bass groove that really grabs the listener’s attention. Tracks such as “Opposition” and “Crushed Grass” actually put the guitar in the background and let the bass carry the majority of the song.
Another difference between this record and previous releases is that in this one they tend to jam out- a lot. Virtually all of the lengthy tracks in the album are of that length because of their long periods of jamming out. It sounds like the members are having fun, and some of these moments are enjoyable to the listener as well. However, it can get grating after a certain point.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Thee Oh Sees’ members are talented at playing their instruments. Credit should most definitely be given for proficiency. The problem is, at what point does it stop being about how good a band plays and becomes about how enjoyable the songs are? Castlemania didn’t sound good, the guitars were completely inaudible, and Dwyer’s vocals were irritating, but that made it great. It was daring, it was funny, it was quirky, and it was a step away from what most bands would try. In the end, Carrion Crawler/The Dream is a solid record with some great riffs and some great bass lines, but it can become a chore to listen to.