Osees – ‘Protean Threat’ review: the dizzying sound of an art-rock renegade chasing his whims

There will be moments at which you'll wonder which parts of this wildly diverse album you’re actually supposed to be enjoying, but it's certainly never boring

On any number of levels, Osees‘ John Dwyer is doing music right. Spotify boss Daniel Ek would laud his relentless fan engagement, ‘Protean Threat’ being his 23rd studio album in 17 years (minus regular solo records as Damaged Bug). And musicologists would hail his manner of shunning any sort of stylistic rut and treating the entire history of alternative music – punk, funk, psych, krautrock, prog, metal, art-pop, grunge, shoegaze, synth-pop, probably even Swedish reggae somewhere – like an all-you-can-eat sonic buffet.

This album of compulsive lo-fi synthetic crank rock, on which Wire have a torrid affair with Hawkwind in 1976 Düsseldorf, follows another of Dwyer’s screeching left turns, from the psychedelic experiments of 2016’s sister albums ‘A Weird Exits’ and ‘An Odd Entrances’ into the hardcore jazz prog freak-outs of 2017’s ‘Smote Reverser’ and last year’s ‘Face Stabber’.

It sounds for all the world as though Dwyer is, quite rightly, chasing whims: just rolling randomly around in music’s playpen, making noise – sometimes furious, sometimes coiled and minimalist – and seeing what sticks.


Parts of fuzz-rock stampede ‘Mizmuth’ sound like the Tardis reversing too fast around a corner into 1973. ‘If I Had My Way’ sounds like it was written by a rudimentary AI let loose on iTunes to gather source material for the perfect song, but only got as far as Andy Williams and The Jam before it started malfunctioning. The wobbly, motoric ‘Canopnr ‘74’ is basically a hi-octane VR trip through the inside of a lava lamp. There are so many ideas, tempo shifts and jarring noises thrown around that you wonder which parts of it you’re supposed to be enjoying.

If the record has a thread – beyond the math-sy messing with the edgier sounds of the ‘70s – it’s a call to defy the Trumpian age. Reacting to the pandemic lies and misdirections of recent months, ‘Terminal Jape’ (a data-corrupted Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster) advocates subversive rebellion against our oppressive system: “future youth, do conspire,” Dwyer chants, “facelessness is key, cloak your flag… divert, disguise, mislead”. ‘Dreary Nonsense’ (PiL having a fit in a Casio factory) berates what Dwyer calls “psychic cannibal” politicians, brainwashing nations with subliminal messages of greed, division and violence.

It’s the sort of messaging you’d rather see slapped all over Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ where it might actually make a difference, but it helps to bring a sense of purpose and direction to a record that otherwise skids wildly across art-rock history leaving steaming tyre tracks in its wake.


Release date: September 18

Record label: Rough Trade