[23 September 2013]
John Dwyer remains one of the more prolific visionaries of our time. From his exhaustive work fronting San Francisco punks Thee Oh Sees, having released five full-lengths and two EPs in the last two and a half years to his time spent as 1/3 of the brains behind increasingly influential label Castle Face Records, Dwyer and his ceaseless work ethic has achieved the respect of those who like their records aggressive and their weekends carefree. He has become a tastemaker of sorts, and having played the game for long enough (And with such vigour) many are often inclined to believe in his vision without a second thought.
A large part of Dwyer’s legacy will be how inclined he was to have enough faith in his own vision to take chances. After all, this was the man who released Ty Segall’s debut self-titled full-length back in 2008 when Segall wasn’t nearly the massive hipster draw he is today.
But in readily following one man’s vision, his minions can also be subject to abrupt left turns. This is, after all, John Dwyer, and even every great Thee Oh Sees record has a healthy dose of weird mixed in with its thrashing garage punk. On the reissue of Phases and Repetition from Providence’s La Machine, Dwyer recalls when he was first seduced by the band: “The year was 1996 (a guess really), when I had La Machine play in our Olneyville warehouse space…I think maybe it was the first time I can recall where I stood in front of something I would consider modern psychedelic music. Not a rehash of some ghost from the past but something new to me. We had a plethora of hardcore, improv, and noise bands in New England… but this… this was something different. It was churning and it had a haunting floor - scraping ass on it. It had hints of nausea and a cyclic simplicity that to this day I still love and listen to often.”
Unfortunately, for those not privy to being in attendance for Dwyer’s seemingly life-altering moment, we’re left to sit and wonder. Phases and Repetition is exactly as Dwyer describes it: heavy on a spastic drone, with a basic groove to keep it’s haunting kraut-rock infused vibe afloat. Would Phases and Repetition have gone over well at a party in the mid-‘90s, where everyone in attendance is presumably stoned out of their tree? Without a doubt. But as an album on its own, Phases and Repetition falls short as it lacks the punch to keep it memorable.
Anything exciting heard on the record, from the shrieking, pummeling hook on “Sucks To Come Down” or the funk of “Supermaggot” is repeated to the point that these high points eventually lose their functioning importance. What’s left is sparse, at times lazy arrangements, as on the near unlistenable “Too Bad”. This is a pounding, relentless album that erects a wall in which listeners must put themselves on either side of. If you have the patience and power of mind to transport yourself, you may be able to get into the right frame of mind to find Phases and Repetition somewhat interesting, if only tolerable. If you’re on the other side, you won’t find much merit on the record, and you’ll likely hope that Mr. Dwyer doesn’t lead you astray next time.