Oh Sees - Orc

by Texacaliago Rating:6 Release Date:2017-08-25

In addition to being one of the best live bands on the planet, Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees) also happen to be a rather prolific bunch. John Dwyer & company regularly make it a habit of releasing an album or two every year in between a consistently grueling touring schedule, so to say Oh Sees are a restless band might be a bit of an understatement.

But the inevitable downside of such productivity is that it only makes it that much more difficult to deliver high quality albums on a consistent basis. However, to their credit, Oh Sees have managed to pull off that very feat for most of this decade, consistently pumping out one solid album after another and enjoying critical acclaim to boot.

But on their latest album Orc, the band seems to be showing some mild signs of fatigue and creative stagnation as a result of all that aforementioned activity. This is most apparent on the album's somewhat underwhelming and tedious back-half, but before we get to that, lets discuss the good stuff shall we?

And there certainly is plenty of good stuff to be found on the album's first half, as the opening track "Static God" aptly demonstrates. This is a classic Oh Sees opening tune here, a jumpy and unhinged little number that is primarily driven by Mr. Dwyer's patented screeching and manic guitar solos. A brooding organ rears it's head around the middle of the tune, casting an ominous aura over the song, before things end the way they started (i.e. in manic fashion). A nice, well-rounded Oh Sees jam that certainly wets the proverbial appetite.

But the real highlight on Orc, is the absolutely raging "Animated Violence" that comes roaring out of the speakers after the relatively pedestrian "Nite Expo". Simply put, Oh Sees have never sounded more powerful or intense, as "Animated Violence" sports an almost proto-metal feel to it. This is a delightfully vicious scorcher for the most part, but it also features a bit of a brooding mellower part (relatively speaking) that allows you to catch your breath slightly and soak in the chaos that ultimately comes raging back at the end of the tune. "Animated Violence" really finds the Oh Sees clicking on all cylinders and is easily one of the best songs they've ever cooked up to date for yours truly. A downright nasty one!

From there, things tend to settle into a groove to a degree and descend into decidedly mellower and less emphatic territory. "Keys to the Castle" is a mostly instrumental and atmospheric piece that clocks in at over 8 minutes, while "Jettison" is a mildly satisfying little jam that strikes a nice balance between the Oh Sees more unhinged material and their more spacy instrumental inclinations which are on full display on the album's back-half (for better or worse).

And it is that aforementioned back-half where Orc starts to lose it's steam and becomes a borderline tedious listening experience for yours truly. Ultimately, your impression of the album's spacy and mostly instrumental back-half will likely depend on how much patience you have for the seemingly tossed-off nature of the jams found there, or your affinity for experimentation broadly speaking. While I certainly have an appreciation for experimentation, too many of these tunes sound phoned-in, or derivative of their past forays into spacy psych-rock. Take for example "Cadever Dog", which seems to sport virtually the exact same organ pipes featured on the closing track for A Weird Exits ("The Axis"). Then you have two back-to-back instrumentals ("Paranoise" and "Cooling Tower") that essentially just spin their wheels and never really go anywhere or make much of an impression as a result. "Drowned Beast" tries to rev things up with it's B-horror movie, warped garage-doom, but it ultimately doesn't do much to shake the tedium that characterizes the 2nd half of the album. Nor does the final track on the album "Raw Optics" which is kind of a microcosm of the generally unsatisfying and half-baked nature of the dubiously crafted second half.

So overall, it's hard to say Orc is a particularly noteworthy or progressive album in the Oh Sees extensive catalog, in spite of the sheer awesomeness of "Animated Violence". That song almost single-handedly saves Orc from being a borderline mediocre offering. Luckily there are enough decent supporting tracks on the album's first half that spare Orc from that distinction to these ears, but unfortunately the album's latter tracks makes the entire listening experience as a whole, somewhat disappointing and unsatisfying. Not a bad album by any means, just slightly underwhelming compared to their more recent offerings.

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