I have no doubt that John Dwyer and the occasionally rotating crew of musicians he calls Thee Oh Sees are nice people. I feel the need to point this out because Thee Oh Sees are a mean, mean band. It’s not that these guys are stingy; in fact, Dwyer is staggeringly prolific both within and without Thee Oh Sees. The menace comes from the monstrous brew of psychedelia that arrives reliably each year in the form of a new Oh Sees album.
The ninth full-length released under this particular epithet is just as much of a bruiser as its title suggests. In just more than 30 minutes, Dwyer leads his compatriots in an unrelenting barrage of sonic creativity and rhythmic overload. From hulking opener “Web” to disarmingly delicate late-album instrumental “Holy Smoke,” Mutilator continues Thee Oh Sees’ unprecedented, mind-melting hot streak.
According to William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom … you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” Ever-prolific singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has flirted with excess for more than two decades and still may not know when enough is enough.
For diehard fans who haven’t already been supersaturated, this limited-edition six-LP/iTunes/42-track Live At Carnegie Hall should satisfy. With little overlap between his back-to-back acoustic solo performances recorded last November, we’re provided a sterling overview of Adams’ impressive catalogue. As indulgent as it may seem, Adams’ naked exploration of his output provides plenty of highlights that should sway all but the most cynical unbelievers. The guy sure can sing and write, and his melodic genius nearly matches his drive. For those still hedging their bets, there’s a 10-track version, which should be considered a gateway drug to the full experience.
Continuing their film-buff aesthetic (band moniker plus the director their side project Herzog is named for—look it up if necessary) with a cover that features John Cassavetes and his best-known muse, Gena Rowlands, this Seattle (mostly) instrumental quartet is also continuing a hot sort-of-comeback streak with 7 (Or 8), the relatively raging follow-up to 2013’s Cosy Moments.
Always distinct from the Mogwai/Mono/Explosions In The Sky pack for real rock dynamics via riffs and sonic drive, and far preferable to psych/improv/jam-out Six Organs-type hipster/hippie fare because it stays on point and combines these two elements with true heaviness, Kinski has probably never rocked this hard, not even on previous 2005 touchstone Alpine Static. Some of the rocking, like pre-release focus track “Flight Risk” and “Operation Negligee,” features vocals to round out the deal—something Kinski leaned toward with its last record, and something that the band pulls off with a deft hand when such a thing for a group like this could mean face-planting failure.
It’s not as if Jim O’Rourke made easily digestible vocal records when he was part of the indie-avant pop milieu before 2005. Like his most spare, intimate and beautifully innate instrumental albums (e.g., 2001’s deceptively titled I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4), O’Rourke’s lyric-filled moments—such as 1999’s Eureka and 2001’s Insignificance—pulled you toward them in confidence, no matter how bitterly misanthropic they may have been. Then there was his tiny, windy voice; in comparison to the plush instrumentation, it too welcomed you onto its bed of (thorny) roses. Leaving the convention of Sonic Youth and indie-everything, oddly enough, hasn’t changed his vocal moods, his lyrical love of the sardonic, unreliable narrator (a favorite literary motif of his and They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell) or his sonic range/palette.
Like Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy played by Martin Denny’s orchestra (remember, O’Rourke did record a tribute to Burt Bacharach for the Japanese-only market) at its quietest—then quieter—Simple Songs is that, and then hardly that. So, gently finicky, flighty songs such as “Friends With Benefits” and “Half Life Crisis” sarcastically veer from their titles (he has no friends) with just enough breath to get through the humbly (hummable) memorable verses. “Hotel Blue” is like dark-chocolate ice cream—soft, bittersweet, cold. Every instrument on Simple Songs (all him, as with The Visitor, his gorgeously wordless free-ballad album) sounds as if its player taped cotton balls on his fingertips, and the whole thing is ghoulishly gorgeous in the most comfortably comfortable way. That’s so O’Rourke.
The pleasantly cacophonous joy of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel is the unpredictable blessing and occasional curse of Mates Of State. They are wife and husband, keys and drums, singer and singer, indie pop puzzle-piece soulmates—even when their vining harmonies might lead them into semi-contradictory notes and ideas.
So, we’ve learned to love them as much when they’re on the same page as when they’re not. You’re Going To Make It, just five songs long, is awesome, a never-sappy snapshot of two people who drive each other wild. They straight-up say so on the “Staring Contest,” which pumps with the heart of the Go-Go’s and the lungs of ABBA. “Beautiful Kids,” meanwhile, is a moody, nearly new-wave thinkpiece about “staring into cracked screens” in the post-book, post-magazine (um … ), post-intimacy era. Gives me that old catchy/paranoid/Postal Service heartsickness. And, holy shit, “I Want To Run” is synthy, radio-ready, pop perfection like only the Mates could make. What’s not to love?