Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated At Last

Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated At Last

Where’s the surprise? Where’s the experimentation?

Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated At Last

3.25 / 5

I like throwback ‘60s garage rock as much as the next guy, and believe me, I don’t care if it’s blatantly derivative so long as it rocks. The Go are awesome, and the Hentchmen put on a great show, to name a couple of bands you should go check out right now instead of doing whatever boring thing you’re doing. But I’m now concerned that eccentric Californians Foxygen have ruined the style for me. Their 2014 double album, …And Star Power is a sprawling exercise in complete batshittery, as unrelenting in its melodicism as it is in its restless volatility. Pleasant Summer of Love piano pop suddenly transforms into squalls of unhinged trash rock and back again, as if that were a totally pedestrian thing to do. As a result, everything else that falls within a similar music paradigm now just sounds predictable to me.

That means guys like Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer don’t seem quite so interesting anymore, even though Dwyer has been at the old school San Francisco garage rock thing since Foxygen’s Sam France and Jonathan Rado were in elementary school. Give Dwyer credit for one thing, though – he not only makes records that sound like they’re composed of lost Nuggets cuts, he makes them at the same breakneck pace at which bands used to release albums in the ‘60s, back when record companies demanded a new single every six months under penalty of death. Mutilator Defeated At Last is the 12th album to come out under Thee Oh Sees’ name in the mere nine years since Dwyer began releasing albums under that moniker (one of many he records under). And that’s even after declaring a supposed “hiatus” in 2013 and revamping the band’s lineup shortly thereafter, retaining only keyboardist Brigid Dawson from the previous lineup.

The high output and recent shake-up doesn’t seem to have diluted Dwyer’s energy or sharpness of vision at all. Mutilator is in fact one of his heavier efforts, and other than a two-minute acoustic instrumental interlude near the end called “Holy Smokes,” it’s an almost constant assault of gloriously hopped up blasts of garagey power driven by tightly coiled, overdriven guitars. Plus, unlike many songwriters, Dwyer doesn’t let his band’s unapologetic loudness get in the way of delivering big, catchy vocal hooks. “Poor Queen,” for instance, is textbook psych-tinged garage rock, augmenting its growling fuzz guitars with Dwyer spitting out an acidic, staccato melody using a captivating vocal timbre that is at once nasal and guttural. “Turned Out Light” barely even needs a vocal, with its roaring, tumbling riff driving the song forward. Even though I’m not totally in love with Dwyer’s guitar tone on this album—all that reverb takes some of the crunch out of his riffs—when he’s got his amps turned up this loud, he still generates enough wattage to crack your skull.

And yet, I’m a bit underwhelmed. As diabolically heavy as something like “Withered Hand” is, I know exactly how it’s going to go as soon as the guitars kick in 45 seconds in. Or take “Sticky Hulks,” the album’s token slow song, which meanders along for nearly seven minutes without ever escaping a dreary first gear built mainly on indistinct bubblegum organ licks. Even the best songs feel perfunctory at times; take opener “Web,” which is an ostensibly awesome rock song in every way. Divebombing bass cedes to screaming squalls of guitar… and then repeats. And repeats again. Where’s the surprise? Where’s the experimentation? Over on a Foxygen record, I guess.

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