John Dwyer’s Oh Sees are a band that sort the wheat from the connoisseurial chaff. Name changes, line-up alterations, reprisal of old names, stylistic ambiguity and a mountain of material collated since their 1997 inception make committing to one of the most proliferate institutions in experimental rock no easy feat. However, for those that do, there exists a fulfilling experience that is equal parts enlightening as it is pure fun. Their 22nd studio release Face Stabber is one such testament to this.
Near dead-on 12 months after the release of the prog-metal Smote Reverser, John Dwyer and co. embellish their 60s psychedelic side, first explored whilst operating as Thee Oh Sees in the early 2010s. The difference here is the retainment of 2017’s dual drummer line-up that, as bands like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have shown, suit the style splendidly. A double LP that runs over 80 minutes, the most eye-catching idiosyncrasies on Face Stabber exist in the delightfully drawn out jams. Technically sharp and true to the aesthetic, Dwyer imbues his mischievous dash of eclecticism for one vivid trip.
“The Daily Heavy” opens the perverse proceedings via a squeaky dog toy used as a metronomic measure. It’s not until the scuzzy bass and rapid rhythm wrestle you back into Dwyer’s psych-rock extravagance that the opening quirk seems blatantly logical. Megaphone ramblings reply to terse vocals with hypnotic eccentricity as guitars solo at free will, emblazoned with wah and flanger in alternating areas.
More jazzy undertones are invoked by the ride-heavy follow up of “The Experimenter”. Dual octave guitar cuts through stabs of enveloped rhythm strums until an isolated synth is seen to serve as the jam’s erratic heartbeat. “Fu Xi” bears a similar jazz influence, albeit with more leering lead licks. An exhibition of Dwyer’s experimental sound design, punctuating string scratches and pitch-shifting synths compound with dual drumming to create an enlivened creature.
The album’s title track is an energising jab of punk. An instrumental that does exactly as its name implies sees a fast-paced alternating hook succumb to a prog-rock percussive closing. “Gholü” and “Heart Worm” serve similar roles on the record. The former blossoms with up-tempo thrash and Dwyer’s psychotic proclamations. The latter is the standout of the three as Dwyer’s heavily-effected screams syncopate when breaking with signal loss for a hypnotic effect. The drawback here, like on the majority of the record, is that the lyrics themselves are indecipherable.
Transcending into dreamier psych, “Snickersnee” is dense with improvised lead licks responding to Dwyer’s political grievances; “Walk around with those expired eyes, politicians tell you only lies”. Stabbing strums of laser-like guitar serve more than sufficiently as the main hook before evolving into the spine-tingling syncopated groove of the final breakdown.
“Scutum & Scorpius” is side A’s extended jam. Revolving synth arpeggiations prelude the circus of sounds encompassing the cinematic introduction. Arising from these ashes is a 60s psych passage that transitions into the downtempo bassline comprising the entirety of the track. Bass and wah lead fuse with driving guitar that both goes where it wants and exactly where you feel it needs to. Clavier keys stun as the ideal rhythmic candidate over an unpretentious percussive riff content to support rather than overpower its more charismatic associates. As the band explore every inflection, lick and accent within the rolling psychedelic passage, each musician’s bliss in surrendering to the song is palpable and contagious.
A single see-sawing cutoff intones a metallic majesty on “Poisoned Stones”. This funk-punk fusion sees Dwyer’s intuitive vocal timing and collective onslaught of quirky sound design combine for one of the catchiest tracks on the record.
“Psy-Ops Dispatch” dips back into the 60s prog psychedelia of “Scutum & Scorpius”, albeit with more pace and erraticism. In the vein of King Crimson, blistering drumming gives the clav keys a hypertensive pulse, building and erupting into a climactic full-blown ischaemic attack. The frantic feeling flows through to the near rockabilly “S.S. Luker’s Mom”. More scathing octave-driven lead licks slice through meditative synth basslines on what could be the perfect addition to a spaghetti western soundtrack.
“Together Tomorrow” is a late gem of infections 60s prog rock heaven. An eclectic toe-tapper replete with resonant signals and mischievous note bends, Dwyer achieves peak Oh Sees in making “tappa-tap-tap” sound infinitely cool. The same can’t be said for the avant garde “Captain Loosely”. Substantially separate from the rest of the record, a pairing of synth and vocal collectively shift in pitch, showing brief glimpses of true timing before shapeshifting into intangibility. Whilst hypnotic, it feels alienated and unnecessary with the 21-minute closer still to come.
The first single on the record, “Henchlock” is a bright, animated ride through 60s psych rock. A suitable ode to the album’s overarching aesthetic sees saxophones adding a soul-infused class to the arrangement that had graced us on earlier jams. Dwyer is a psychedelic ghost guiding us through the multiverses as the band dissect a single chord progression the way a fractal artwork endlessly revolves. Its swathe of effects and instruments embellishing the arrangement inhibit redundancy and compel for a conclusion that mirrors Dave’s transmission through the Monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Oh Sees have been best known for existing at their erratic best. Short, sharp, punchy insanity. And whilst this has been entirely withdrawn of Face Stabber, 22 years after their origin Dwyer and co. show a newfound patience, microscoping and mining passages for all their intricacies. Provided you can hang around for the full 80-minute ride, here’s an audio experience that engages such vivid visual senses that would otherwise require additional substances to emulate.
Face Stabber is released Friday 16th August via Castle Face Records