Let it be known that this guy is a fan of psychedelia in all its musical forms. From cheery psychedelic pop via The Zombies to the drugs and death of the first two records from The Doors, I’ve always been one to be drawn into the spacey sounds this corner of rock music pumps out.
Yet, despite all my inherent interest, it remains something that can easily be bungled. It’s not so much a tightrope to walk as much as it is trying to walk on bubble wrap while wearing cleets without popping any of it. Suffice to say, a nuanced touch is required to prevent your music from either being too down to earth, or worse, getting lost in your own ambience. Case in point, Tame Impala’s 2015 record Currents, an album that, while certainly containing some great songwriting, lacked the sharpness of their two previous albums where it desperately needed it, coming off as sort of lethargic.
That’s where Thee Oh Sees really captured something that I don’t hear in a lot of modern psychedelic record. Whereas a lot of modern artists seem to want to make music that you can sort of slowly zone out to, a sense of psychotic energy runs through the eight tracks of A Weird Exits, with lurching dynamics and punctuated stabs of squalling garage-borne guitar noise. The pace is generally relentless until the last two tracks, which bring the caffeinated frenzy down a notch to a more ethereal sound, a well earned break in my opinion given the punky aggressiveness of the preceding six songs. The vocals are all over the map as well. You get a little bit of that accented falsetto that modern indie groups are oh so fond of, some elfish staccato vocalizations, and some admittedly aggressive growl-singing that isn’t exactly easy to describe but sounds damn awesome when combined with a nasty Dead Kennedys style surf-punk riff in “Gelatinous Cube”.
These vocal stylings often get lost in the echo chamber production. The reverb here reaches for miles and the echoes of each individual instrument chaotically bounce off each other and scatter all over like the first shot in a game of pool. Usually, I would complain about a mix like this, but like I said earlier, the frenzy is what fuels the album’s motor, and the dense sonics are a key contributor to the madness.
Especially of note is the eight minute penultimate track “Crawl Out From The Fallout”, the first spot on the record that the band slow it down a bit. A tense waltz with a droning cello figure running throughout, the repetitious piece creates a swelling bolero drenched in ambient noodling that swirls around the lead vocal, and he fluttering strings meld with electronic glitches and echoing guitar leads to create an amorphous wall of aural texture. It’s all brought back around in the end with the Procol-Harum-esque final track “The Axis”. The pleasantly mellow organ and slide-guitar driven track is slowly overtaken in the second half by an absolutely ear assaulting guitar interjection that swallows up the rest of the track, ending the album on a nasty clang. It provides some good closure for the album after the ambiguous sputtering-out that the previous epic track ended on.
The appeal of this album may have a limited reach given the noisy, reverberant production and the fact that the tracks revolve more around jams than verses and choruses, but the album’s brisk running time and the band’s keen sense of dynamics keep everything from getting too repetitive; there’s always some sort of crescendo or change of pace around the corner.
Crawl Out From The Fallout
Released August 12th, 2016 on Castle Face Records
*Note that since this is my first review for this blog, note that I don’t like number ratings because it makes it too easy to equate reviews, so my system from here on out shall go from highest to lowest: