As Castle Face rightly points out in any mention of this album, it seems that in all the amplifier fallout that John Dwyer has amassed in the past decade, people forget that the seed of Thee Oh Sees was a much more acoustic vision. I remember seeing “the guy from Coachwhips” at a show many years back in NY club Rothko (RIP) and trying to get people to hush the constant whinging about when Ted Leo was coming on. Dwyer was still banging the project into shape, but his presence was as indelible then as it is now. Revisiting the hushed ambiance, but with a hefty bit of vision and refinement under his belt, this version of OCS is again acting as a respite from John’s more flammable works.
This time the ramshackle folk is replaced by a loving ode to ’60s chamber folk records. Strings yawn underneath the hushed bedtime pop of Dwyer and longtime Oh Sees companion Brigid Dawson and the compositions skew heavily to the lush, yet mournful. The love of this era of psych has peeked into the band’s catalog but never taken center square until now. There are shades of Subway, Nick Garrie, The End, Susan Christie, and Sunforest flickering into view as we ease into this new incarnation of the band. As the record progresses impressions of The Free Design and The United States of America surface as well, but it’s clear that the synthesis of influence on this can’t be pointed at any one band. It’s a true divination of the murkier side of the ’60s. This is the sound of someone getting frustrated with searching out a certain sound from the crates and just doing it better themselves.
Dawson acts as the perfect melancholy specter on the album, with her veiled delivery sitting Shiva for the hearts of a hundred crackled ’45s. The bench on this record gets even deeper though, with Mikal Cronin chipping in a full horn workup on some tracks and those note-perfect strings, courtesy of Heather Lockie’ (Spiritualized, Sparkelhorse, Cory Hanson) making all the difference here – pushing the listener into a deep, lush vista of sound. There’s even a few breakdowns from original member Patrick Mullins, driving this into Soft Machine territory. The record’s probably not a pickup for the casual Oh Sees fan, maybe not even the devout, if JD’s scuzz is what you crave. But for those of us who are always looking for more candlelit visions of bittersweet warble, this is a nice gift. If you were charmed by Cory Hanson’s excursion into similar territory then you’ll feel right at home here. Honestly, even if you do usually come for the fuzz, maybe just sink back into this one and cool off.
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