Thee Oh Sees
An Odd Entrances
by Chad Jewett
The Thee Oh Sees pie-chart can ostensibly be divided up between the needling, MC5-worshiping garage-punk of the band’s manic live shows and the woozy psychedelia that is used as respite on more traditionally raucous albums like 2013’s Floating Coffin. Call it a 75/25 split – three quarters treble-blasted riff explosions and one quarter pastoral reveries. Only occasionally have the Bay Area garage rockers devoted entire albums to this stuff, most notably on 2007’s freak folk interlude Sucks Blood and the more chemically trippy Dog Poison, released in 2009 between the bombast of the definitive Help and 2010’s Warm Slime. Much more typical for Thee Oh Sees are LPs like last year’s excellent Mutilator Defeated At Least and this year’s A Weird Exits – collections that float into John Dwyer’s tastes for more idyllic palettes only after devoting most of their time to explosive fuzz-punk potboilers. If one were to try to define a Thee Oh Sees song at its most elemental, it would be something like “Dead Man’s Gun” (from the aforementioned A Weird Exits); a thrumming bit of garage stomp that eventually flares up into serrated fury via the fuel of Dwyer’s inimitable howl: “WOO!”
This is all to say that An Odd Entrances, the band’s third release of the year (counting the Fortress 7” from January), is quite possibly Thee Oh Sees’ most atypical album. If it were just that the record eschewed the howling, acidic fury of their signature work for something more placid, then it would still fit easily with Dwyer and company’s occasional left turns into quieter corners. But previous examples of a more hushed, moody Thee Oh Sees found the band at their most studiously lo-fi and insular. Indeed, showing up just after the fidelity-boost of Help, Dog Poison’s haziness seemed to underline that the record was practically a side-project. An Odd Entrances is a different story. Recorded at the same time as A Weird Exits (a fact underlined by their matching titles and by the trippier moments of the first release, expanded upon throughout the second), An Odd Entrances has all of that record’s idiosyncratically beautiful lushness. It is the admirable fact that half of its sales will be donated to the Elizabeth House women’s shelter that really stands out. But whereas the outsized, headphone filling rush of A Weird Exits — produced by longtime Thee Oh Sees collaborator Chris Woodhouse (who, album by album, is getting better and better at capturing the band’s total feral force) – was dedicated to Thee Oh Sees in full, noise-drenched roar, here all of that sonic capaciousness works to illuminate gently swooning strings, whirling organs, and smoky slow-burners like “Jammed Exit”.
Much of An Odd Entrances is devoted to instrumental material, with only album opener “You Will Find It Here” (which bears the most resemblance to the electrified mania of the three full-lengths that preceded it) operating on anything like Thee Oh Sees’ patented thumping verse/exploding chorus schematic. And even then, the song, which floats along atop the twinned rumble of drummers Dan Rincon and Ryan Moutinho, is far more focused on texture and atmosphere (specifically, free-form guitars and echoing church organ on loan from Procol Harum) than sudden flare-ups. Otherwise, the band’s most typical moment, the catchy-yet-spare “Unwrap the Fiend Pt.1” remains entirely instrumental, focusing its spotlight on interludes of Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies. Instead, when Dwyer does show up to sing, it’s on the jazzy “At The End, On The Stairs”, a song that recalls a whole rarities collection’s worth of mid-60s bands who began to eschew maximum R&B bombast for hushed, narcotized dreaminess. On “The Poem”, Thee Oh Sees actually manages to approach the twilit loveliness of Nick Drake, Dwyer’s voice wreathed in lush strings and a single guitar picking out a spare set of chords. You keep expecting the sudden sonic boom. It’s all the more striking that it never arrives.
Thee Oh Sees manage to get even quieter on album-closer “Nervous Tech (Nah John)”, an eight minute collage of fuzz bass, ad-lib drums, and sleigh bells that is only occasionally interrupted by Dwyer’s frayed-wire guitar solos. Those moments have the effect of neon paint being splattered across canvases of earth-toned minimalism, and they are where the hi-definition sonic perfection of An Odd Entrances pays off in a way that Thee Oh Sees’ previous, more scuffed-up attempts at softer tones never quite did. The contrast is electrifying: the sound of one version of Thee Oh Sees spilling atop another.