Oh Sees: “Orc” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com

Originality: (5.0 / 5)
Vocals/Flow: (4.0 / 5)
Lyrics: (3.0 / 5)
Production: (5.0 / 5)
Average: (4.3 / 5)

It’s no surprise to anyone that John Dwyer’s ridiculously prolific psych-punk outfit released an album in 2017. It’s also not surprising that he slightly altered the group’s name once again. Whether you’re a long time fan of Thee Oh Sees (now billed as just Oh Sees) or have only recently fallen into the group’s inescapable psychedelic hypnosis, Orc is going to impress you. On the follow up to last year’s well received A Weird Exits and its companion EP An Odd Entrances, the classic Oh Sees formula of the past few years is still intact, but they also allude to elements of their earlier years when they incorporated more synthetic elements of their music (but not quite all the way back to when they were billed as OCS).

Dwyer and the boys don’t waste any time getting to the point on the record. The liftoff lead single “The Static God” is blistering, ghostly psych rock, with Dwyer giving a high quality version of his signature, ghoul-like snarl. Of course, the refrain of the song consist of just “ooh” in the typical Oh Sees fashion, but it comes through one of Dwyer’s most catchy melodies. The song stands along with”Tidal Wave” and “The Dream” as one of their best. “Nite Expo” comes smashing in immediately after with its spiraling synth lead and pounding rhythm, and it offers something that fans of the classic Castlemania album will instantly connect with.

Further in is the sprawling, life-threatening eight-minute-long track “Keys To The Castle”. Right here, Dwyer and Co. come together to bring everything they have into the sonic mix, and it packs a punch. All of Dwyer’s signature guitar tones are there, but there’s also something a bit unusual for an Oh Sees track: a string section. The slow and seeped draws of the instruments combined with everything else makes you feel like you’re in some sort of misty dungeon with no way out. 

There is a way out, though, and it comes with the start of “Jettisoned”, undoubtedly one of the best songs on the record. This is Dwyer’s songwriting at its coolest, and it’s also some of his most pensive: “You can tool around the horn now, maybe/The people never say hello/Who is for indifference, honey?/I’m not sure they know”. Working as the album’s centerpiece, it provides the energy the listener needs to get through the rest of the album.

The misty and almost medieval sounding “Cadaver Dog”, featuring an organ of all things, is also a highlight of the album. Looking into the lyrics, it seems that Dwyer is boasting some political inspiration – something he virtually never does. “So all of you young ones/You sniff the debris/And catalog disaster and grief/Put it all in athenaeum of woe/Please don’t follow but lead”. Like so many other artist this year, Oh Sees are reaching out to the crowd of endless youth basically saying, “Please, don’t make this situation anymore worse than it already is”.

Whether it’s the spookily funky “Paranoise”, the jazzy synth-pop of “Cooling Tower”, or the annihilating  throw down of “Animated Violence”, if you like Oh Sees, you’ll LOVE Orc. Simply put, it’s classic John Dwyer, even if the listener does start to miss the inimitable croon and thundering bass of former members Brigid Dawson and Petey Dammit, respectively. In any case, the most recent outing from Dwyer and his psyched-out San Fran punks is guaranteed to leave you drooling for more, just like a good Oh Sees album is supposed to.