Thee Oh Sees
A Weird Exits (Castle Face)
Led by John Dwyer, garage-psych wrecking crew Thee Oh Sees has churned out 15 albums, the latest being A Weird Exits. It covers familiar territory, though previous forays into jangly, poppy material have been obliterated. For the uninitiated, A Weird Exits is not an easy introduction; song titles like “Gelatinous Cube” and “Unwrap the Fiend, Pt. 2” indicate the prevailing vibe. The frantic grooves are at once minimal and overflowing, with Dwyer chanting and puncturing the fabric with trademark unholy roller yips. Guitars throw down razor riffs and suddenly peel off like cartoon spaceships. Unnerving sonic touches abound.
The last two songs mix things up without mellowing things out. “Crawl Out From the Fall Out” is a slow waltz with low, groggy strings; it sounds like a lurid shanty emitting from a trash barge floating on an alien sea, while “Axis” is a feverish hymn based on the chords of “Bold As Love” by Jimi Hendrix—Dwyer drops an overdriven psychedelic solo that breaks down in spectacular fashion. It’s an apt finish to another uncompromising album by one of rock’s implacable forces.
As guitarist for Sweden’s progressive psychedelic heroes Dungen, Reine Fiske has been party to some of the best music of the last 15 years, laying down precise, fluid solos integral to that band’s Apollonian brand of acid rock. Calling The Amazing his side project is perhaps unfair, and the band is hardly a fly-by-night proposition; this is its fifth album since 2009. Still…
Ambulance continues the temperate psychedelia The Amazing has always cultivated. It’s tempting to link the band’s style to the windswept Swedish landscape; chiming, echoing, intertwining guitars prevail, with synth strings drawing out long notes over moderate tempos. Fiske’s gentle, incantatory vocals seldom rise from the mix—in fact, nothing really demands attention. The Amazing resemble a European version of Kurt Vile, easygoing but not especially engaging, and Fiske’s solos never attain the heights he regularly hits with Dungen. Outliers include “Blair Drager,” which pushes trip-hop drums to the fore, and the pair of burbly, folky, acoustic-driven numbers that end the album (variation that would have been welcome earlier). The Amazing weaves attractive if mostly ornamental tapestries.
Animal Races (Empty Cellar)
The colored pencil drawing on the cover of Animal Races depicts a Western-style main street, except, instead of a street there’s a creek that disappears into distant green hills. A giant naked woman and man stand on either bank, clumsily brandishing tennis rackets, and overhead, a giant hovering eyeball encased in a vibrating orb observes the scene. Remarkably, the tableau is suggestive: San Francisco quartet Cool Ghouls plays twangy psychedelia, keeping it homegrown, loose and unconcerned.
Ghosts of classic Byrds, early Love and the Nuggets compilations are ubiquitous, but this isn’t reverent nostalgia, and Cool Ghouls flip the script enough to sound vital. There’s a hint of the paisley underground on the title track, a Feelies-like urgency to the jangle of “Time Capsule” and interweaving guitar solos à la Television on “Spectator.” The band weeps it up with a yearning pedal steel on “When You Were Gone” and flexes alt-country chops on the catchy, piano-driven sing-along “Days.” Animal Races is a solid album full of terrific moments from a band that just wants to make life a better party.