So my favorite release of 2009 so far is easily “Help” by San Francisco’s THEE OH SEES. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their previous releases, but on a track-to-track basis, this new one on In The Red is their finest collection of slippery, noisy, shape-shifting pop music. Previous stuff by them had me tagging them as a messy, harmonious 2000’s version of CAN or THE FALL, but their songwriting got kicked up a notch, and “Help” is totally playful, joyously tuneful, and yet a real stereo-wrecker on most tracks. Forget The Fall or krautrock - this has more in common with some detuned, bouncy, noisy version of Merseybeat this time. No one in the band can sing particularly well, but the vocal sum is most definitely greater than the individual parts. If you’re not singing along by the end of this LP/CD, then you’re not human, my friend.
Ever since I read an essay in the SF Bay Guardian around 2002 that effectively said that bandleader & guitarist John Dwyer walked on water and was a stone-cold, unrecognized musical genius, I’ve always kept a wary and watchful eye on the guy. I really liked about every fifth COACHWHIPS (one of his many previous bands) song, but thought the live shtick was so, you know, shticky. I wrote about them in 2005 that “…Live, the Coachwhips are all hat and no cattle, with every move choreographed to remind you what a wild fucking party you're witnessing, and how the band just "showed up" all of a sudden to set up on the floor with their broken equipment….”. Likewise, I saw his pre-OH SEES band called YIKES a couple years ago, and the posing, strutting and “guitar face” fake-grimacing was enough to send me packing to the bar for a much-deserved drink.
I hear THEE OH SEES as Dwyer’s “grown up” band. There are very few if any cringe-inducing tricks, other than an over-reliance on weirdo splice-in tape edits. The songs, as I’ve indicated, are just fantastic, and as I listened for the first time I kept waiting for one that I didn’t enjoy – and it never came. Now I haven’t said that about a new release in many a year, so odds are this is going to be the finest thing I’ve heard this annum. Now let’s see what you think.
Play Thee Oh Sees, “Rainbow”
Download THEE OH SEES – “Rainbow”
Download THEE OH SEES – “Enemy Destruct”