Thee Oh Sees have returned from hiatus to churn out another heaving lo-fi brain melter. Drop builds, if ever so slightly, on last year’s Floating Coffin in that it tends to eschew the incomprehensible psychedelic jams in favor of more accessible, pop-oriented fare, bearing much in common with fellow San Francisco exile Ty Segall’s most recent release with Fuzz, albeit with more whimsy in place of Segall’s requisite menace and anxiety. Not to say that this is a pop album – “Penetrating Eye” is the sound of someone smashing not through the door, but the ceiling to crash your shitty party – but the songs, more often than not, have an identifiable structure, and on one or two of them it’s vaguely possible to sing along.
Keeping to the form of having the first track on the album be, if not the strongest, then at least the most accessible, Drop opens with “Penetrating Eye,” a quasi-metal stomp, is as focused a mission statement as you will get from the band about what the album is about. It’s loud, it’s shrieking, and it’s visceral, but it’s also got a chorus that goes “la la la” and – you read that right – it’s got a chorus. And like most of what Thee Oh Sees try to do, the experimentation with pop song structures pays off spectacularly, in a sort of blustering, inelegant way. But just so we know this is still a Thee Oh Sees album, the next two tracks are drones, full of noodly guitar, random instruments like mellotrons and a saxophone played by Mikal Cronin, and a lingering sense of unease, with “Savage Victory” in particular managing to bring the jam down to a level of accessibility while still managing to feel incomparably strange.
The rest of the songs on the album reveal just how short and spasmodic this album is. “Put Some Reverb on My Brother” is a pleasant jaunty thing that has simple, repetitive lyrics and palatable instrumentals. On a past Thee Oh Sees album, this might have seemed like little more than a transitional, intermission-esque track. Here, though, it takes up almost 10% of the album length. “Drop” is a pretty straightforward rocker reminiscent of The Black Keys, and as unassuming as it might seem, that kind of makes it stand out within the context of a band that is almost defined by eccentricity. And it helps that the guitar solo is among the best in the Oh Sees canon. Meanwhile, “Transparent World” is a slow-burning track that plays around with a variety of instruments and dynamics, but despite appearing at first glance to be kind of an afterthought, in truth it contains a lot of insight into the thought process the band must have had writing the rest of the songs, and it’s a great listen by that right.
While I may not be giving this album an amazing score, that doesn’t stop Thee Oh Sees from being one of my favorite bands of the last ten years, and that this album, while not among their best, does nothing but improves on what the band has done, because even though it may at times seem like the band is just screwing around and making up mindless garage-psych goop, the truth is they never sit on their laurels. They are always working much harder than anyone expects them to, and the fact that they put out at least one new release every single year attests to that, like a bizarre union between Guided By Voices and The Stooges. The fact that they’re always willing to take chances, even if that means experimenting with pop song structures and melodic coherence, is what makes them so perpetually interesting.
Recommended Tracks: Penetrating Eye, Savage Victory, Drop, Transparent World