Thee Oh Sees Putrifiers II(In The Red) Buy it from Insound
It may seem unlikely that a group would release one of their finest works 14 albums into their career, but for a group as completely restless and passionate as San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees, one would expect them only to get better with time. Since forming in 2004 as John Dwyer’s solo project as, the cartoony psych rock outfit has gone through various name changes, stylistic shifts, and eventually an evolution into a roaring full band experience, with some of the groups best work coming out during this era. With Putrifiers II, however, the group reaches a culmination of sorts, as the album constantly tests the groups’ limits while also further refining what they’ve achieved previously. The end result is an exceptional piece of psychedelic garage rock that never stays in the same place yet manages to still feel consistent as a whole, making this album a true standout amongst Thee Oh Sees’ vast discography. All of this is accomplished without the group losing an ounce of their personality, rawness, and all-around likeability that has attracted so many people to their crazy cult of rock mischief in the first place.
To be honest, I don’t think anyone was really expecting Putrifiers II to sound just like their last few albums, as anyone who has followed Thee Oh Sees prolific output knows that they try not to repeat themselves with consecutive releases (2011 alone gave us two distinctly different albums by the group, the largely solo Castlemania and the manic, krautrock-inspired Carrion Crawler / The Dream). However, while many of the groups past records felt more like strong variations, their latest is more of a bold step forward than a side step. This is easily one of the more varied albums in the Thee Oh Sees catalog, and it features the group operating both at their most accessible and experimental depending on each track. Though this isn’t the first time Thee Oh Sees played with various sounds and styles on one album (see 2009’s bizarre Dog Poison), the approach has never before been accomplished by them with such professionalism, as each track feels fully realized and perfectly executed.
Don’t let the term “professionalism” scare you though, Thee Oh Sees are still as bizarre, whacked out, and fun as ever on Putrifiers II, and though the album does sport a slight boost in production and greater definition in songwriting, the group still manages to bring plenty of its combustible raw energy and weirdo charisma to the table. Look no further than opener Wax Face, a roaring, kinetic blast of psych punk that would blend in perfectly with earlier albums like Help and Warm Slime. The following track, Hang A Picture, reflects the snappy fuzz pop that the group has been known for, and Lupine Dominus, with its pulsing rhythm and savage guitar noise, incorporates much of the impulsive energy seen in the group’s last album. Tracks like these prove that even though the group does sound a bit cleaner in some spots, they can still be as wonderfully raw, wild, and energetic as ever. However, this is only the group’s first stop on their journey.
A lot of people have described Putrifiers II as a much softer and leaner take on the groups sound, and while this isn’t necessarily true on the whole, there are a decent amount of examples on the album to make this case. Although there are many sonic elements present to support this, like John Dwyer’s increased use of falsetto and the addition of a tender string section, certain songs in particular act as better evidence. For instance, the undeniably catchy Floods New Light is probably the best example of how Thee Oh Sees are really honing in on their pop sensibilities, as it’s easily one of the more structured and clean-cut pop songs the group has ever written. However, it still has more than enough of the groups charming character and plenty of “ba-ba-ba’s” to solidify the track as a true standout.
Putrifiers II also features some of the gentlest tracks the group has ever written, bringing out a sensitive side of Thee Oh Sees not often seen in their music. This is especially evident with the last two tracks on the album, Goodnight Baby and Wicked Park, which are both, defined by their twinkling guitar melodies, delicate strings, and hushed vocals. Wicked Park in particular, with its cooing “lala’s” and light-as-air acoustic guitar strums, is a bona fide children’s lullaby, as it could easily pacify even the most unruly children to sleep. It’s a rare moment of legitimate tenderness from a group primarily known for its wild-child energy that feels particularly special.
For every moment of pop excellence and sensitivity, however, there is an oppositely charged moment of experimentalism and exploration that really bring Thee Oh Sees into brand new territories. Throughout Putrifiers II’s ten diverse tracks, the band frequently switches out between pop and experimental songs on the fly, with some of the most opposing tracks juxtaposed right alongside each other, leaving the listener with a surprise at each corner. So Nice, which follows the delightfully snappy Hang a Picture, is a beautifully droning piece of string-fed psychedelia that could easily be seen as the groups answer to Within You Without You, yet it later abandons its form by dissolving into the wall of feedback known as Cloud #1. Some moments, while not as overtly experimental, simply try their hardest to push the band’s sound as far as it can go. The album’s title track, for example, is a brooding, lurching and expansive rock piece that is easily one of the albums strongest and most defining moments, as it exhibits a sense of artful patience and savage execution that further proves the ever growing might of Thee Oh Sees group dynamic and chemistry as a band.
Though I can’t say for sure if Putrifiers II will ever my favorite release by Thee Oh Sees or if it’s even their absolute best for that matter, Putrifiers II accomplishes something that few, if any of their previous releases have: They’ve managed to perfectly highlight the best qualities of their sound while also introducing a few new ideas to create an album that truly feels definitive, as it will easily satisfy and challenge diehards while also having the ability to bring in new fans who may not be connoisseurs of modern garage rock. Though some may consider John Dwyer a dinosaur by today’s standards with his 15+ year career, the strength and vitality of Putrifiers II suggests that we can easily expect an even more restless and fruitful 15 years from him to come.13 September, 2012 - 08:10 — Peter Quinton