Oh Sees don’t do things like other bands. Not only do they release albums at a breakneck pace – twenty in the last fifteen years isn’t too shabby – but they also haven’t really suffered any significant decline in quality (like you’d expect from a band so old.) If anything, Oh Sees are getting better with each release and their twentieth album Orc shows them at the top of their game.
Opener ‘The Static God’ sets things off well; it’s classic Jon Dwyer. The song is a force of energy, barrelling out of the gates with one of the jerkiest guitar riffs you’ve ever heard before settling into a propulsive groove. The bass, the guitar, the (two!) drummers, Dwyer’s creepy crooning vocals… Everything’s on top form here. The track hits you like a slap in the face, just like Oh Sees’ most energetic songs do. ‘Animated Violence’ is similarly powerful, featuring some heavy guitars and a vocal performance that wouldn’t feel out of place on a metal album. Oh Sees have pretty much perfected producing psych rock jams like these two at this stage. Both tracks show the band’s ability to strike the listener while, at the same time, delivering what they’ve come to expect.
Though the album features plenty of hard-hitting tracks like these two, I’d say Orc is at its most interesting when the band decide to experiment. There are a number of songs on the album which demonstrate Oh Sees’ willingness to play with its listeners’ expectations. ‘Nite Expo’ sounds like no other Oh Sees song with its squelchy synth lines, ‘Jettisoned’ shows the band going in an almost jazzy direction with its loose feeling drums and ‘Cadaver Dog’ feels outright gothic with a moaning organ lingering at the back of the song.
Oh Sees’ experimental side shines through most clearly on the track ‘Keys to the Castle’ though. It starts off fairly typically for an Oh Sees song – Dwyer describes an assault on a castle in between his characteristic woops – before abruptly shifting pace two minutes in. What follows is a lush and dream-like cello solo that fills out the track’s last six minutes. It’s a bold change of pace from the band’s usual in-your-face riff-laden songs and shows that Oh Sees’ quieter moments are no less powerful.
As Orc moves into its second half, Dwyer’s vocals take the backseat as the band indulge in even more experimentation. ‘Paranoise’ is as unnerving as its title suggests. The song is about as minimalistic as Oh Sees get, featuring a driving bassline washed over with the sound of static. The song builds slowly and almost hesitantly over four minutes before abruptly cutting off with the sound of a gunshot. ‘Raw Optics’ also succeeds in being strangely captivating. Like ‘Keys to the Castle’, it starts off fairly standardly, before a few minutes in a lengthy drum solo kicks in. For any other band, it’s a move that probably wouldn’t work, but for Oh Sees it feels like the perfect way to close out the album.
With the band releasing so many albums at such a quick pace (Jon Dwyer has already announced Orc’s follow-up) it almost feels unfair that they’re so good. Orc is pretty much as good as modern psych rock gets, demonstrating that Oh Sees really are masters of their craft.
Best Tracks: ‘Animated Violence’, ‘Keys to the Castle’, ‘Raw Optics’