Friday, April 20, 2007

The Oh Sees - Sucks Blood

Sucks Blood (released 3.19.07 via Castle Face Records)

John Dwyer is as close to a goddamned hippie as a rock and roll musician can get. Always eager to collaborate on a project, he's best known for minimalist noise and garage groups like Pink and Brown and Coachwhips, also having performed earlier with Landed and Krang. Once a solo experiment in the mid-1990s, Dwyer later led Orinoka Crash Suite (OCS) as a journey between himself and Patrick Mullins, OCS being somewhat of a side project for their respective bands, Coachwhips and Burmese. After splitting with their bands and releasing OCS double album 3&4, a collaboration between the pair that strictly involved acoustic guitar, a bit of drum, Dwyer's lazy vocals and a few knobs here and there, OCS soon became the Oh Sees, a more dedicated project with the addition of a few people that would make the Oh Sees a bona fide band.

One of the best aspects of OCS/The Oh Sees is that though there's not a great deal of variety among their albums (though the project did begin as more of a folky noise outfit and is now somewhat more noisy folk), their recordings are consistent with their live performances. When OCS was a simple pair, you might have caught Dwyer swaying from side to side in any venue's cheap chair while singing lazily and strumming his guitar with tattooed arm and punk might, as a bespectacled Mullins relaxed to the beat of his snare brushes. With the group now doubled, you'd catch much of the same action, only with Mullins drawing a bit of eerie comedy on his singing saw, and Dwyer perfectly harmonizing his falsetto with new female vocal addition Brigid Dawson. Dawson and Dwyer, offering a sweet greeting: “Hey there, waterfall...” Dawson and Dwyer, both supplementing songs in 2/2 time with sung melody but also emphasizing it. Dawson and Dwyer, trying not to laugh when Mullins pulls out the saw and instantly reminds the audience that he's using an object that any generic cartoon might have played during the appearance of a ghost.

New Oh Sees record Sucks Blood, the Kelley Stoltz-produced record that rests between two albums produced by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek (yes, one is planned for the future), is hardly unlike the group's last record and retains a lot of those lazy, sweet tones. But the band's certainly changed since it was just a duo – here, you won't find the group covering blues songstress Elisabeth Cotten, but you will get an even bigger taste of that singing saw, moaning throughout “Golden Phones” and the album's title track, which sounds exactly as it appears in a live setting. This meaning that Dawson and Dwyer are harmonizing falsettos, she likely standing quietly, he likely swaying to each side without a care in the world, not even letting the quick, hard, irregularly occurring, dissonant strums of the song break his flow.

And like the other OCS and Oh Sees records, Sucks Blood isn't mind-blowing, but there are so many details that make it accidentally funny, though one can never tell in the case of Dwyer whether the comedy really is accidental. When he and Dawson sing the line “roll upside down,” they literally roll their “r” with not a second's hesitation. “Ship” is a happy-go-lucky bounce with what sounds to be church bells faintly ringing behind it, and Untitled Drones #1 and #2 are just what they suggest, as were the two untitled drones on the last Oh Sees record; here, however, Untitled Drone #2 isn't so much a drone as the waves of the sea, over the squeak of a seagull and gusts of wind. In an interview with Art Noise in 2005, Dwyer said he was “constantly searching for something that feels good,” and that “music sort of fills that hole a lot of the time.” OCS was a project meant to give him more of a songwriting outlet than his raunchy garage bands had provided, and there's certainly more of him projected in this music than the instruments themselves, as was the case with former bands. But what really makes OCS/The Oh Sees stick out from his past work, aside from the blatant difference in pacing, is that you can really hear him giving into his age and needing to settle down with something that simply feels good.

On another note, Sucks Blood makes the case for why one should buy a physical, rather than digital, album – homemade album art in this case reveals a drawing of a hand making a peace sign. Only the hand is made of logs and somehow resembles Floory of Pee Wee's Playhouse.

The Oh Sees - It Killed Mom
The Oh Sees - Sucks Blood

Video for "Broken Stems" (off The Cool Death of Island Raiders)

Purchase a copy of Sucks Blood


Matthew said...

I really like these guys - nice and scratchy!

China said...

Isn't low budget production fantastic?