Wednesday, April 4

Album Review: The OhSees

Here’s another one I wrote awhile ago that I never got around to posting. If you like the OhSees they have a new album, “Sucks Blood”, out now, and it’s worth checking out.

“The Cool Death of Island Raiders”
Narnack; 2006

John Dwyer is the king of the underground. He is the king because he has always been and will always be the same rare, unappreciated visionary. He will never be famous, he will never be successful, and he will never be accessible. But, rest assured, he will always be behind the scenes, prolific, relentless, and dedicated. Dwyer’s been in more bands than you can count on two hands, contributing guitars, vocals, drums, and a variety of strange sounds to his project of the week before he runs across the country to work on another. He is the patriarch of a strange family; his offspring are the bastard children of the music world.

His latest album with the OhSees is no exception. “The Cool Death of Island Raiders”, released last year on Narnack Records, isn’t going to get much attention from anyone, save the small circles of Dwyer-worshippers across the country. Though the OhSees’ slow shift from Dwyer’s solo outlet to a full, four-member band would seem to make the album more listenable, there still exists a great chasm between the music and the average listener that, in most cases, is impossible to bridge.

This chasm exists largely due to Dave Sitek’s opaque, smothered production. The instruments sound as if they were immersed in swamp water while being recorded: guitar chords disintegrate as soon as they’re hit, obscuring whatever melody they’re meant to establish; the drums sound flat and hollow, robbing the tracks of rhythm and energy; the vocals are one-dimensional and mixed too low; even the experimental textures and musical saws residing in the background aren’t given enough room to breathe.

Somewhere beneath the muddy exterior, however, resides actual music. The album’s questionably titled opening track, “The Guilded Cunt”, is home to some terrific interplay between Dwyer’s cartoonish falsetto and bandmate Brigid Dawson’s simple harmonies. The verses of “The Dumb Drums” feature a tight guitar and drum groove that occasionally gives way to a bright, delayed guitar riff. “Cool Deaths” is a reworking of a classic folk chord progression, with a feedback-infused bridge that provides an interesting contrast to the song’s mellow verses.

But moments like these are rare, and around halfway through the thirty-six minute album the band seems to run out of ideas. The wails of the musical saw grow more and more contrived, the consistently sleepy tempo gets tiresome, and noise breakdowns become little more than uninspired placeholders for unborn melodies. And, as if we needed more proof that the OhSees were having trouble putting the “L” in LP, we’re given “Drone Number One” and “Drone Number Two”, the album’s two longest tracks that together make up almost a third of its play time and feature little more than a tone generator slowly alternating output frequencies.

It’s unclear if the production is meant to veil these shortcomings or simply satisfy Dwyer’s taste for the unconventional, but in either case the result is worse for it, making even the album’s best moments a chore to uncover. And, in the end, the payoff isn’t worth the work it takes to uncover.

“The Cool Death of Island Raiders” is nothing more than a few drops of water to satiate the inhabitants of Dwyer’s thirsty underground kingdom. For the faithful, it’s an assurance that Dwyer isn’t going anywhere, and that he’ll continue to rein in near-obscurity, adding dull and flawed gems to his crown for some time to come. For the rest of us, it’s an album that’s easy to hate and even easier to ignore.

The OhSees - The Guilded Cunt [mp3]
The OhSees - The Dumb Drums [mp3]
The OhSees - Cool Deaths [mp3]

- Dominick Duhamel -

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