Oh Sees - Orc Album Review
First coming to prominence during the garage rock revival of the 2000s, the San Francisco based Oh Sees (formerly the more formally name Thee Oh Sees) was able to break through the onslaught of garage rockers for their emphasis on psych rock inspired songwriting and incredible musicianship from sole continuous member John Dwyer. As their contemporaries started to fall from grace from the oversaturation of the genre, Oh Sees maintained their success as they slowly evolved from humble garage rock to full blown heavy psych. After continuing to experiment with their sound throughout the 2010s, of which Orc will be their tenth studio album during the decade alone, Oh Sees have released their best studio album to date by fully embracing elements of krautrock and progressive rock in a way that not just compliments their heavy psych sound, but improves upon it.
That’s not to say Oh Sees have all of a sudden jumped into these new sounds cold, but rather is the first time they’ve been implemented to better an album as a whole rather than individual tracks. Often Oh Sees have balanced, but never truly blended, their heavy psych rock bursts with their more atmospheric psych jams. Songs like 2012’s “Lupine Dominus” hinted at how the band could possibly integrate the two, but up until Orc, Oh Sees’s albums have felt more akin to a mix of heavy psych tracks and atmospheric psych tracks that don’t relate to each other thematically or sonically in any significant way, leading to albums that are consistent in quality, but incohesive in vision.
Orc is almost a revelation in this sense: within the same tracks, Oh Sees shift and build between these two sounds seamlessly not just from track to track, but within the same song. Tracks like “Nite Expo,” “Animated Violence,” and “Cadaver Dog” have Dwyer’s crushing guitar riffs trading the spotlight with more spacey synths multiple times throughout the song, while the rhythm section grounds the songs in a steady beat that maintains the momentum between heavier and softer psych breakdowns.
The album doesn’t chain itself to this approach though, as Oh Sees still mix in solely heavy and solely atmospheric tracks as well. Though with Orc, production from frequent collaborator Ty Segall helps these two sonic areas of Oh Sees feel more like they’re from a single spectrum rather than two different sides of the same coin. Segall keeps the guitars heavy, but not overbearing, allowing for the more synth laden passages to carry equal weight.
There are times where the more faithful krautrock rock and progressive rock elements are slightly misused though. The sequential trio “Paranoise,” “Cooling Tower,” and “Drowned Beast” each on their own contain individual parts that, had some of the excess been trimmed and all three combined together, would have made for a more interesting single song. This rings especially true when compared to “Keys to the Castle” and “Raw Optics” which have similar varying and distinct passages within their runtimes, but are still able to transition from one to the other to create a more interesting song. That’s not to say these songs hinder the overall enjoyment of the album; rather it's a symptom of Oh Sees frequent and prolific output that causes musical ideas to get stretched to their absolute max rather than paired with other ideas to be a greater sum of its individual parts.
When the individual parts are this good though, it’s difficult to criticize. Oh Sees have taken every facet of their sound and found the next logical and artistically exciting progression for them. Even Dwyer’s vocals, while they have always been an important part of the band's sound, feels more diverse here than on any prior project. They show off an aesthetic range that further gives each song on the album their own unique and exciting identity.
Orc feels like the album Oh Sees have always been building to: a captivating and utterly unique heavy rock and progressive rock fusion filled with a vibrant sonic palette. Whether Oh Sees decides to take their near-perfected sound in a more conceptual direction or continue to push the boundaries of psych rock, Oh Sees without a doubt have struck gold with Orc and probably won’t stop digging further anytime soon.
Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Civic and Community Engagement. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.
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Senior / Public Relations