“Welcome to Thee Oh Sees, bitch.”
From free-form folk jams to the stiff angularity of krautrock, Thee Oh Sees have been bending disparate genres into garish wallpaper and aluminum siding for their shoddily built garage rock space ship for almost two decades now. But they’ve taken a different studio approach with 2016’s A Weird Exits: the group’s gone full Melvins on us. The 2015 addition of neophyte drummers Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon to their live band has fortified John Dwyer’s scratchy, brassy splatter punk into thick, towering slabs of Big Muff-fueled beef. The curious harpsicord and bell sounds that were so prevalent in previous releases like The Master’s Bedroom… and Castlemania lay vaporized in the wake of the opener’s thundering rhythm section. Providence native John Dwyer’s discomforting, falsetto howl is still hard at work on “Dead Man’s Gun,” just barely keeping its head above the tide of viscous sludge that constitutes the record’s mix. The ballsy boost to the band’s collective low-end carries the hilarious titled “Ticklish Warrior” as well, and the song’s Thin Lizzy-esque dual guitar harmonies seem like the final kiss goodbye to the group’s messy art rock sensibilities. Well, for the remainder of the album, at least.
The blunt, bright thickness of it all sounds very reminiscent of Ty Segall’s stoner metal/hipster vanity act Fuzz, with whom Thee Oh Sees share a recording engineer and part time member. It’s not all punishing buzz saw chugging, though. With the album’s first single, “Plastic Plant,” Dwyer hinted that he might have finally moved past his fetishistic obsession with the first British Invasion and proto-punk movements to investigate a few of the tunes that came after. “Pastic Plant” feels almost like Yes during its exuberant single-note passages, and again dabbles in the twin guitar leads that demarcate the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’s most important contributors. The atmosphere oscillates wildly from densely packed with guitar noise and echoes to loose and tranquil enough to throw in a few bursts of flute. Why not, right? Thee Oh sees have at least taken a shot at just about everything else.
Even when they ditch the album’s sound du jour and get characteristically scratchy and spastic and weird in “Gelatinous Cube,” Dwyer’s SG is so distantly dialed into the tone of low-end warmth that his usual approach feels somewhat diminished, somehow less sharp and abrasive. It’s got plenty of tremolo waiting and unhinged wildman shrieks to satiate the OG OC purists, but such fans may justifiable balk and the baffling cut “Jammed Entrance,” a cosmic, spaced out bass-driven instrumental sparsely dotted with retro synths noodling. At the end of the day, both punks and hippies will be satisfied by A Weird Exits, though the former group less so than by Thee Oh Sees’ earlier efforts.