Alright, so all y’all inveterate Oh Sees fans, you can skip this little article. You bought your tickets to the newly ‘Thee’-less, freshly Paul Quattrone–d, Orc-touring Oh Sees’ Sept. 25 show with dreamdecay and Arrington de Dionyso the Utopic Clarinetist Shaman at Crystal Ballroom, like, months ago or something, right? Your minds are made up. You’re in.
But what of us dancers, stoners, and music nerds? Why should we care about this show, this band? Just because our bass player won’t shut up about ’em, has seen ’em seventeen times and can appreciate—and make us appreciate—the fine distinctions between their different lineups, their different eras, their various connections with other vintage rock acts like Ty Segall, King Khan and the Shrines, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard?
Just because we heard that one song in a Breaking Bad episode or late one night on XRAY.fm and when we looked it up at a stoplight we made a mental note to “check out that rad fuckin’ “Thee Oh Sees” shit”?
Nah. It’s a rainy Monday night on West Burnside. You need a reason to put on your fall shoes and go out to a show. I know I do.
Anyway, all of a sudden I have a chance to go see and hear this legendary garage/psych band, who is apparently notorious for putting on the most mind-blowing shows ever. Plus, I mean, come on. Two drummers. They’ve done the two drummer thing a couple times already and it’s legendary. Look it up. See ya there.
But that, astonishingly, is not quite enough for me. If a drum duet is all I need, I can go hear Portland State professor Alan Jones get into some wild free jazz with Charlie Doggett and fellow PSU prof Joe Manis every coupla months. And, of course, double-drummered King Gizzard will be here in just a couple of weeks.
No, it’s gotta have this specific alchemy to really get me going: It’s gotta move, and it’s gotta be smart. I want to get happy feet while my grad school brain gets tickled by cool complex music.
I guess this is probably a lot to ask for, but as it happens there’s a whole world of bands out there ready to deliver exactly that, bands with their own studios, bands who grew up with a bunch of late 70s and early 80s post-punk records on their shelves and a ton of obscure Italian prog and Mexican psychedelia on their iPods.
Listening to a bunch of (Thee) Oh Sees albums all in one sitting, as is my obsessive-compulsive wont, I considered their musical personality and speculated about founder and primary songwriter John Dwyer and his company of insanely talented musicians (bassist Tim Hellman, drummers Paul Quattrone of dance-punk outfit !!! and Dan Rincon). Starting with Orc, I moved on down the line through the previous three—2016’s A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances, Hellman’s 2015 debut Mutilator Defeated at Last—and from there down through 2011’s Stratosphearic creepfest Castlemania all the way back to 2, recorded solo by Dwyer in 2001-2001 and released under the original OCS moniker).
There’s a time-stretchy element to all of it, a hard-driving minimalist punk groove, closer to This Heat than Velvet Underground and closer to Cardiacs than either. The short songs sound deliciously expansive, the long songs sound like side-long epics. The Super Music Nerd in me delights in all the obsessive chromatic grooves, the diminished chords and secondary dominants and chromatic mediants, the drones and weird scales, the washed out 60s reverb, even the occasional odd meter.
Dwyer recording by himself has the introverted, tightly and passionately overdubbed charm of other studio nerds from Elliott Smith and of Montreal all way the back to They Might Be Giants, Prince, Les Paul and Mary Ford. Leading a band, he sounds like the perfect generous dictator, the Stevie Wonder Archetype, the bandleader who could do all your jobs but wants his friends to make music and get trippy with him.
Oh, and trippy it is. If Oh Sees were a marijuana strain, they’d be one of those heady sativa-dominant strains like hipster fave Blue Dream or the classic Acaupulco Gold. Especially on the recent albums (the ones with two drummers), where they’ve been getting into rich stoner jams that would make Josh Homme proud. These guys sound like they were all the sort of band kids who liked to listen to their Yes albums on acid and play their Melvins 45s at 33 1/3.
The best part is, these guys are experienced badasses: they’re tight as a submarine hatch. Hell, they’ve probably been doing this job for longer than you’ve been doing yours. It’s not just that they’re talented (they are): they’re fucking seasoned.
And that, my fellow dancers and stoners and music nerds, is why I’m going out on the first night of school. See you there.