How does Oh Sees leader John Dwyer do it? In 15 years, with varying line-ups and slightly differing band names (OCS, The Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees), the musician has put out 20 studio albums that have helped steadily lift him to his status as probably the biggest cult star in rock’s underground world. Despite his rate of output, he’s never repeated himself and, regardless of your feelings towards his tunes, you could never accuse him of slacking off on the experimentation front.
‘Smote Reverser’, Oh Sees’ 21st studio LP, continues that commitment to doing something different– none more so than on ‘Overthrown’. It’s easily one of the band’s wildest tracks ever – the double drum tracks sound like they could break the speed of sound; there are guitars that switch from distorted, chugging riffing to wigged out soloing; and Dwyer delivers his vocals in a harsh rasp. The band buries those vocals beneath the song’s other layers, giving them a menacing, suffocating quality.
‘Anthemic Aggressor’ is on a whole other plane to that. The rhythm section shuffles with a jazzy flourish, while all sorts of discordant beeps, hums, and whirrs fly around on top. ‘Nail House Needle Boys’ builds from a grinding Americana-rock riff and ‘C’ is a jubilant, organ-led, poppy bouncer that’s so chipper it feels like it should be prescribed on the NHS.
Dwyer recently told Billboard he’s recently been writing more from improvisation. For the most part, that approach seems to have worked for him, but there are points where things get a little too self-indulgent. The aforementioned ‘Anthemic Aggressor’ could stand to shed more than a few of its 12 minutes. You know that theory that nothing unmissable happens after four AM? You could apply a similar one to the song’s runtime. Meanwhile, ‘Flies Against The Glass” crunchy space-rock never launches itself into the stratosphere as you hope it will. Instead, it hovers at a level that feels surprisingly mundane, given the acclaimed stature of the musician behind it.
Oh Sees’ mastermind may still put the rest of the world to shame with his tireless explorations of sound, but even he has proven that sometimes it’s good to have a little edit. Strip away the excessive noodling and ‘Smote Reverser’ could be up there as one of Dwyer’s best in recent years. As it is, it’s good, but not as consistently great as we’ve come to expect from him.