There was a time not so long ago when a Thee Oh Sees release came to your disc tray prepared to fulfill a very focused, limited set of expectations. The guitars would rip and buzz, the vocals would deliver punk ethos in earnest and the scuzzy, drug-haze lyrics would break through the noise just often enough to imply an odd sort of dread for a garage band. Originally just a side project to filter legendary lo-fi guitarist John Dwyer’s more idiosyncratic wishes, Thee Oh Sees have grown to become both the most reliable and exciting thing going in the world of DIY psychedelia.
But that was all thrown for a loop in 2013, when a promise that the band wouldn’t be performing live quickly transformed into rumors they weren’t even recording, or worse planned to break up. Drop arrives as a bit of a surprise, then, for those who remember that vague period of the band’s press cycle and then tuned out for one reason or another. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is also among the most sonically rich offerings in their catalogue. Obviously Thee Oh Sees aren’t going to make a Sgt. Pepper’s, Hounds of Love or even American Water, but Drop bears the undeniable mark of an album emboldened by the idea it’s life might mostly be confined to record players, disc drives and tape decks.
At a svelte 32 minutes, however, it’s a bit strange how wanting this album ultimately leaves you. Strange in part because there’s so much going for it. “Encrypted Bounce” teases Television, “King’s Nose” teases Syd Barrett, “Camera (Queer Sound)” teases Morphine. Taken as a whole, especially left on repeat and to its own devices, Drop is everything a Thee Oh Sees fan should want. It also serves quite satisfyingly as an introduction to the band for newcomers. As I peruse the track list a pair of months later I can look at each title and pick out a moment I want the listener to hear. Just one would be the anthemic quality to “Put Some Reverb on My Brother” that makes the track feel like this album’s true mission statement just before the actual title track grabs hold. but in the moment it’s hard to tell how close to a masterpiece Drop is, how far from sentiment I am. It could just be a pretty good garage rock album.
But point blank, Thee Oh Sees are still doing this whole thing better than near anyone else, and Drop is a real treat for all in ways perhaps their other albums haven’t been. Owe it to studio trickery or mere happenstance, this is perhaps the first album of theirs you’d love to hear live but can be satiated by the acetate. It’s unabashedly seventies, from the Black Sabbath-meets-Yeezus rhythm of “Penetrating Eye” through the end, but Drop is something fans of guitars and reverb need desperately in 2014, just as with every Thee Oh Sees release before it.
// Notes from the Road
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