Sal Klita Blogger | Muzik impressions

Sal Klita Blogger

Monday, April 27

'Thee Oh Sees' new album is a time capsule...

Review by Aquarius Records: Listening to Help, it's almost impossible to hear anything but mere traces of the chaotic noise rock path John Dwyer followed to make it to Thee Oh Sees (aka OCS, and Ohsees), but it's that noisy past, and penchant for musical shit stirring, that informs the jangly garage pop on Help, and transforms the band's jangle and shuffle and pound into near perfect buzzy fuzzy catchy retro pop, and makes it easily the best Oh Sees record yet. And a definite contended for (garage) pop record of the year.
Most of us were introduced to Dwyer via his two piece noise rock costume rock combo Pink And Brown (after brief stints in some well known Providence outfits), but unlike most of the costumed joke bands at the time, P&B offered some serious songsmithery along with the unhinged live shows and audience baiting. A brief stint drumming for SF grindlords Burmese led directly into the band that brought Dwyer to worldwide attention, the Coachwhips. Arguably one of the best live bands around, the Coachwhips made up for what they lacked in actual songs with sweat and alcohol soaked performances, utter chaos, and sometimes literally, ultra destructive houseshows. Coachwhips shows were all about the energy, the vibe, jumping around, flailing wildly, getting wrecked and having a blast.
Sometimes though, that energy was difficult to translate to home listening. Take away the sweaty throng and the deafening volume and, well why would you want to do that?And so came the Oh Sees, originally called OCS, and a double cd release on Andee's tUMULt label a few years back, essentially a solo record, one disc of folky fluttery lo-fi twang flecked pop, another of corrosive textured noise experiments, which ended up being, for many of us, one of our favorite post Pink And Brown Dwyer documents.
OCS transformed into The Oh Sees and became a real band, and seemed poised to follow in the sonic footsteps of the Coachwhips, stripped down garage rock, super lo-fi, lost of brittle high end, yelped distorted vocals, tribal drumming, but there was definitely something more, more refined, more catchy, more timeless sounding, something much more than garage rock, a sound that reminded us of sixties girl groups, of Phil Spector productions, raw and primal, but lush and expansive and catchy. But that catchy lush side of the Oh Sees remained hidden beneath squalls of tweeter abuse and fractured effects, a wall of fuzz and buzz more than an actual wall of sound. Until now.Help finds the band making their first record for garage rock stalwarts In The Red, which is ironic as this is Thee Oh Sees' least typically garage rock record yet.
Instead, the sound is total pop, plucked fresh from a time capsule buried in the sixties, the guitars jangle as much as crunch, lots of reverb, the vocals wreathed in a haze of delay, lots of female vox, the choruses are lush, the drums are still tribal, but much more measured, often quite spare, the arrangements though are anything but classic, sometimes getting super abstract, but never losing their catchiness, sometimes adding all sorts of extra distorted overload, but just as quickly slipping into something smooth and groovy.
Minus the weird moments and the fucked up productions, some of these songs do really sound like they were just transported forward four decades."Meat Step Lively" starts off all Cramps-y, with a fuzzy grinding main riff, simple pounding rhythm, but adds some awesome female vocals and background 'ooooohs', some spidery lead guitars, and coolest of all breaks it down with about a minute to go into a swinging sixties smoke-y jazzy flute flecked groove.
"The Turn Around" is a minute of blown out drum damage and fractured effects, but wrapped around a sing songy main riff, and some cool distorted and reverbed vox, in total Guided By Voices fashion, they truncate what could have been the jam of the record, and launch into "Can You See", which is all slithery and washed out, with angelic background vocals, shuffling drums, and a cool dreamy bridge, but the whole thing still manages to sound ominous and intense and weirdly sexy.
The record closes with "Peanut Butter Oven", which we first heard on the recent (and sadly now out of print) Awesome Vistas 12", and it's obvious why this was the single, it definitely is THE jam of the record, with it's simple stripped down jangle, workmanlike drum beat, and soaring minor key strings, and let's not forget the gorgeous harmony vocals draped over the singing strings and that irresistible main riff. And so it goes, every track here is a gem, each one offers up something new, some twisted take on that classic sixties garage rock sound, but it's that sound revved up and filtered through Dwyer's gloriously cracked pop sensibilities, bathed in buzz and fuzz or stripped way down and left shimmery and crystalline, sometimes wrapped in HUGE hooks or allowed to simmer and slither, the catchiness subtle yet so irresistible, and unlike past efforts, even at its noisiest, the noise element seems more an organic part of the sound, and is often shaped into something barely recognizable as noisy.
We knew Dwyer and company had it in them, and now they've proven it, BIG TIME. Dying to see what they come up with next, if they could possibly one up this here disc, but hell, for now, Help has us way satisfied. And records like these are exactly why they invented that repeat button on your cd player. Folks with turntable will just have to get up and flip the record over and over and over, again and again and again. WAY recommended.


Monday, April 13

"Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle"...yeh, me too.

Maybe it's his lyrics, which oscillate between downtrodden and vaguely threatening, or maybe it's his rich baritone voice, but Bill Callahan -- under his own name or as Smog -- has always been a little intimidating. Both his albums and his interviews reveal a musician who believes in introspection without revelation. You got the melancholy and the almost-content inside his albums, but Callahan himself still felt unknowable. 2007's Woke On A Whaleheart seemed to open him up a little bit, and his new record, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle feels more unfastened. Callahan began working on the new record last summer, settling in the "small, quaint" town of Plano, Texas. While the town itself was nice, Callahan said the surrounding areas were "...a cornucopia of crap, all the big box and cinnamon donut atrocities. And they have their own version of Hooters there called Twin Peaks.

I thought it was going to be a David Lynch themed restaurant because the billboards had these mysterious messages like 'Come for the food but enjoy the view,' he says. "I didn't realize they were talking about breasts." He says basic tracking ran for only four days, done live with virtually no overdubs. The short initial recording run fits with Callahan's routine. "I get so wound up when recording that I usually can't sleep much anyway, so it always seems to me like I might as well be in the studio," he says. "I was going to try to take it easier on this record. It turns out we couldn't, though, because there were several major technical difficulties that ate our time up, forcing us to pull the long days I love." Man about town John Congleton helped with recording, then arranger Brian Beattie took Callahan's tapes and wrote the arrangements for the record.

Neil Michael Hagerty did arrangements for Woke On A Whaleheart, but Beattie's work -- like the record as a whole -- sounds more precise and subtle. "I had an overall idea of what I wanted the record to sound like, but I didn't have any melodies for the arrangements, just a concept." Callahan says. "I would say he 'gets' the songs I have brought him. And I don't think he has a 'go to' arrangement." I found less straight meaning in songs like "Eid Ma Clark Shaw," and "Rococo Zephyr," two of my favorite tracks on Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle. Both are filled with alluring phrases that seem to resist interpretation (maybe in a way similar to Andrew Bird). But Callahan insists that he doesn't write that way. "I'm more about literal meaning or clarity.

I pretty much have to write the lyrics first and completely before I can try to set it to music with a pure heart," he says. "I feel like a traitor otherwise. A traitor to what, I'm not sure -- maybe a traitor to the word?" It's true: "Eid Ma Clark Shaw," may have a title and a chorus that sounds totally random, but many lines, like "I dreamed it was a dream that you were gone / I woke up feeling so ripped by reality," and "All these memories are fucking me down" feel grounded in real experiences. Callahan says he writes by finding a few lines then figuring out if they lie in the beginning, middle, or end of his story. "Any good story can tell itself as long as you have one part of it. It's like grafting a tree," he says. "It is often an ecstatic experience. It feels really good but I don't remember much about it the next day."

Review by Stereogum