Osees: Protean Threat (Castle Face) review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 29th, 2020  


Protean Threat

Castle Face

Sep 21, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Few bands can lay claim to the word prolific like John Dwyer’s Osees (formerly Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, OCS, Orange County Sound, etc.). The ever changeable psych-garage wizards have maintained a steady output of releases over the past two decades, with a new record coming out each fall like clockwork. The previous incarnation of the band, Oh Sees, was dedicated to diving ever deeper into a mix of garage and psychedelia that leaned heavier into prog and jazz freakouts as time went on. Protean Threat, the first record under the band’s not-so-new name, sees the band pare its approach back to the essentials, forgoing the 20-minute prog epics of Face Stabber for a more concise encapsulation of the band’s acid-fried garage punk. 

The opener, “Scramble Suit II” sets the tone of the album with fittingly scrambled drums and blistering guitar, punctuated by blasts of horns. The track is very much in line with the band’s reputation for scuzzy and frenetic guitar freakouts, as are other twitchy highlights, “Dreary Nonsense” and “Terminal Jape.” The band’s talent for punishing instrumental momentum is out in full force, even more so with the focus on brevity on this record. At only 39 minutes, the band largely cuts all the protracted excess that weighed down the more indulgent moments on their latest works. Credit has to be given to the rhythm section, especially the dual drum setup that keeps the record moving with speed and intricate rhythms. Protean Threat rarely drops in momentum, keeping the album moving at a nice clip. Even the more psychedelic jams rarely wear out their welcome, the exception being “Toadstool,” which lacks the dynamism of the rest of the tracks.

Of course, John Dwyer’s music is anything but one-note and Protean Threat sees Osees take some suitably strange sonic experiments as well. The band takes a Krautrock instrumental detour on “Wing Run,” with droning synth experimentation providing most of the melody. The following track, “Said the Shovel,” sports a sinuous disco beat that morphs into something more sinister as it goes on. The lyrics on this track are similarly demented with lines that sound close to a scene from a grindhouse film—“I’ve got girls/They got choked up, screaming when they died/They got fucked up, chewed up, thrown up/And in the dirt they lie.” Dwyer himself is an elastic vocalist as well, delivering an unhinged, yelping performance over the Motorik beat of “Red Study” with the same ease he delivers the insistent aggression of “Persuaders Up!” or the sly tone on the surf rock riffs on “If I Had My Way.” 

While the lyrics are not generally the focal point on an Osees record, on Protean Threat the band forgoes the fantastical and medieval imagery of Orc or Smote Reverser for some very real and prescient concerns. Dwyer seems to reference the surveillance state throughout “Terminal Jape” before instructing the listeners, “Future youth do conspire/Facelessness is key/Cloak your flag, dissimulate/Divert, disguise, mislead.” Elsewhere, “Gong of Catastrophe” pictures a society in collapse, describing crumbling spires, immoral and duplicitous leadership, and swinging truncheons. While these observations are often buried beneath the scuzzy riffs, they hint at a level of commentary the band isn’t known for, capturing a simmering sense of unrest and bewilderment.

It’s been over two decades into the catalog of Osees, and Dwyer continues to tweak the formula. The blistering garage punk, hazy psychedelia, and Krautrock synth noodling that have come to form the pillars of Osees’ music are all tightly packed into concise forms and delivered at a brisk pace here. Fortunately, the tracks do not feel truncated. In stripping the indulgences back, the band delivers the best aspects of their fuzzy guitar freakouts without sacrificing the groove-based jams. After 23 albums—and nearly that many name changes—Osees is still one of the most consistent and inventive bands in psych rock. (www.theeohsees.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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