John Dwyer and friends set to tape some 200-plus songs throughout the last five years, and Putrifiers II holds a few of the best.
We’ve got “Flood’s New Light,” an uncharacteristically crisp and upbeat ditty of jangling tambourine, hooks of elated “ba, ba-ba-ba-ba” gibberish and the clearest stream of biking-through-Golden-Gate-Park-naked-on-solstice endorphins since their rainbow-melting cover art for Help. It’s about as campy as Thee Oh Sees are capable of getting—but don’t stress. There’s still a doobie chilling between Counselor Dwyer’s teeth.
Moving on a bit, we get the flip side of those good vibes with the seething guitar menace of leading single “Lupine Dominus.” It’s the weirdest, crunchiest, most visceral slice of psychedelia by Thee Oh Sees on this or any album and one of the best rock singles in a year that contains some actually pretty great rock singles (recession’s ending, guys—USA!).
There are other winners here, for sure, plus some cool experiments with Jethro Tull-tooting flute parts, a droning cello here, an itchy fiddle there, but otherwise the wolf’s share of Putrifiers II remains couched pretty comfortably in the time-honored Oh Sees conventions that made this sandcastle as big as it is. There’s falsetto, there’s funereal note-for-note vocal duets from horror twins Dwyer and Brigid Dawson, and there are plenty of fuzzy forays down the alleys of psych-rock-past with special emphasis on Byrds-y guitar (“Goodnight Baby,”) post-India Beatles spirit wankery (“So Nice”) and a dram of shuffling zombie Doo-wop (“Will We Be Scared?”).
All these songs are good (well, except maybe “Cloud #1,” which isn’t so much a song as a 90-second continuation of the synth fart that concludes “So Nice.”). Putrifiers II is a perfectly A.D.D. arc of garage psych we’ve come to expect from Dwyer and co. lo these five years. But that’s the album’s biggest fault, too. Beyond the welcome shine of TOS’ cleanest production to date, so many of the songs here fall too comfortably into the realm of expectation, and after 14 solid albums in five short years we’re still, greedily, waiting for our minds to get full-blown. But then, maybe that’s what happens when you’re putting out an average of 2.8 albums a year; you don’t have time to let your songs marinate and develop for long.
Lupine Dominus, by the way, is Latin for “Master Wolf.” That’s what you’ve got to be today if you want to, as Dwyer puts it, “make art for a living.” Tour longer than other bands, play harder than other bands, record faster and release more than other bands. The strategy has paid off for the band, establishing it as California garage-rock royalty (TOS has friend and conspirator Ty Segall beat on Facebook likes nearly 2:1). Putrifiers II is not the masterpiece TOS fans may have been hoping for. But it is another piece that let’s Thee Oh Sees maintain the role of reigning masters.