If you were to bottle up the last few years of California garage rock into a single soda can and pop the lid, that crisp and gratifying release might sound something like Thee Oh Sees, Despite being on supposed “hiatus” status, San Francisco’s punk rock pride and joy have released this latest nine-track album. The group, captained by frontman John Dwyer along with cool-girl vocalist Brigid Dawson, are linked to the floating L.A.-S.F. trash-rock clique, led by musicians like Ty Segall and his crew, both of which have been dominating the underground rock scenes within both cities for the past few years. Known for their past full-length albums like Castlemania (2011), Carrion Crawler/The Dream (2011) and Putrifiers II (2012), Thee Oh Sees are one of those bands that not only maintains their dynamism and intensity with each album, but seems to somehow get better and better with each, despite their occasionally limiting, over-arching genre. Drop is proof of the band’s staggering talent and cool, with a well-rounded nine tracks that represent their well-established sound, but also crosses into some unchartered territory. And it rocks.
The album begins with the alluring, electro intro of Penetrating Eye—an unusual move for these guys. The intro pulls you in and keeps you equally confused and interested, mostly because you know it’s about to break out into something crazier. Without disappointment, it does, as the feedback slowly emerges and Dwyer tears into an invigorating guitar riff. Dwyer’s unique, recognizable vocals begin and we know we’re in for a treat, with the usual “la la las” and “ows!” that he’s always consistently nailed. The seven-minute-long masterpiece that follows, Encrypted Base, boasts a repeating guitar riff, a percussion-heavy build-up, and a simple chord progression and strutting bassline, all of which never get old. One of the catchiest, most dynamic tracks, it’s riddled with Dwyer’s eerie, high-pitched vocals and his well-known call of “woop!” that always seems to remind us that we couldn’t be listening to anyone else.
After these first two tracks, the album rockets into success, with a mix of cooler, psychedelic tunes and bigger, heavier, R.O.C.K. Savage Victory, with its whispy vocals and weird vibe, carries hints of obsession, threat and romance all at the same time. Put Some Reverb On My Brother demonstrates Thee Oh Sees’ total mastery of their sound, as Dwyer casually croons the ironic phrase, “You can’t hear me, I can’t hear you,” while a guitar shreds in the background. It’s one of those strikingly simple, repetitive Thee Oh Sees melodies that somehow grips you for three minutes without pause. Some tracks really embrace the eerie, heavy psychedelia that the group has more recently explored. Camer exudes a bass-heavy, bad boy frustration in which Dwyer sings about “waiting for an opening to explode,” whatever that may mean. In tracks like these, the anticipation is totally palpable, and we can actually feel the album simultaneously building, breaking and collapsing into itself. Other tracks like Drop, that mostly just consists of the words “oh yeah,” prove to us that this group doesn’t even need knotty lyrics to sound good. This appropriately-chosen title track is the perfect encapsulation of Thee Oh Sees’ Goldilocks style: not too hard, not too soft, but just right.
A few songs, like The Kings Noise and Lens seem to blatantly harken back to a Beatles-era psychedelia, a move that demonstrates Dwyer and the rest of the band’s ever-growing musical maturity. These stranger, feedback-ridden, reverb-heavy tracks show us that Thee Oh Sees are capable of doing whatever they want, whether it’s the repeating, head-bobbing garage pop they’ve mastered or a looser, experimental “trip” moment that we can’t help but lose ourselves in. The final track, Lens, is cool, simple and calming, taking the form of a love song, but shifts the group’s newfound versatility to another level by throwing listeners a surprisingly sweet-tasting bone. That sweetness is exactly what we need after devouring the indulgent, carb-heavy, extra-sauce sound that is Drop, and (at the risk of allowing this metaphor to spiral further), we leave feeling totally satisfied and craving more at the same time.