OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head Album Review
Unlike their lineup, band name or genre they operate in, John Dwyer’s garage and psychedelic rock project from San Francisco have consistently released quality projects that never fail to offer some new artistic direction or experimentation for the band. Few artists have offered the depth and breadth to their discography like Thee Oh Sees (OCS for the group's second incarnation of 2017).
These characteristics continue with Memory of a Cut Off Head, though it’s the first album that purposefully diverts from the evolving sound of Dwyer’s manic guitar shredding and spaced out flavor of garage rock. It features the return of longtime collaborator Brigid Dawson who brings not just a softer female counterpart to Dwyer’s multiple vocal personalities, but also a return to the folk based instrumentation from early in the band's career.
The release still offers just as many head turning psychedelic moments and ideas as the group’s most recent releases however. Fans who enjoyed the spacier tracks from the band’s first 2017 album Orc such as “Keys to the Castle” or “Paranoise” will find an even larger serving of that on Memory of a Cut Off Head, though explored with folk instrumentation as opposed to fuzzed out guitars or wobbling synths.
For fans that have become addicted to the group’s signature brand of explosive walls of sound, there may be little here to enjoy though. While Memory of a Cut Off Head has some significant high points, much of, if not all of the more relaxed middling sections feel overly indulgent. Tracks such as “Cannibal Planet” or “Time Turner” feature long breaks of psychedelic soundscapes that fail to build tension or offer interesting sonic textures.
That’s not to say these parts will make it impossible for fans or even new listeners to enjoy. Though the erratic garage rock walls of sound are gone, Dwyer’s unique personality and knack for odd but compelling imagery and wordplay are layered on in spades. The album’s continuous reference to headlessness and inhuman events fit in perfectly with the psychedelic instrumentation.
It should be noted as well that the folk instrumentation on the record adds an interesting set of sounds for Dwyer to toy around with and use. “The Baron Sleeps and Dreams” particularly stands out in this regard, using horns and strings in tandem to create a song reminiscent of Southeastern European folk music. But within this very track is the most apparent example of the shortcomings of the record as well. After the first half of the track where Dwyer has built this great instrumentation and atmosphere, he throws it out the window for an eerie soundscape that harms the flow of the album. This is made even more apparent when the track ends and the most upbeat and exciting track on the entire record, “On and On Corridor,” begins, creating an abrasive and disjointed atmosphere to the album.
Dwyer and Dawson have built a strong foundation to move forward with this new brand of psychedelic folk even if they didn’t execute it with flying colors here. Devoted fans of the band and of experimental folk music will find much to enjoy on Memory of a Cut Off Head. It delivers on being a unique and psychedelic experience that feels fresh, though its over indulgent psychedelic moments occur too frequently and with too little to offer the record as a whole to live up to the expectations set by the band themselves with Orc, nor the incredible psychedelic folk albums that have already released this year in the form of Richard Dawson’s Peasant or Fleet Foxes’ Crack Up.
Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Senior / Public Relations