In the five years since Thee Oh Sees last dropped two studio albums in such quick succession, John Dwyer’s motley band of garage rockers has become even more chaotic than usual. Their most stable line-up dissolved in 2013, as Dwyer left his native San Francisco for the cheaper climes of Los Angeles, though their workrate refused to let up.
Come 2016, a year in which you can charitably say nothing can be relied on, Thee Oh Sees have hit a new stride. L.A. living may have mellowed the 42-year-old frontman’s outlook, but it hasn’t subdued his output. Now firmly re-established in San Francisco (“I like techies now!” he told one local paper), July’s “Live In San Francisco” saw a fearsome new line-up of Thee Oh Sees recontextualise their past, bolstered by a double-drummer approach that hasn’t been so effective since The Fall circa Hex Enduction Hour.
The twelfth album to bear Thee Oh Sees name, “An Odd Entrances” throws August’s “A Weird Exits” into sharp relief. Recorded in the same sessions with the road-hardened latest line-up, the pair’s titles and artwork are indelibly linked. “Exits” found its bliss in imagining the Stooges jamming with Can, pitting Dwyer’s thrash – seriously, I have no idea what he did to his guitar to make it sound like a broken television at the end of “The Axis” – against a three-man rhythm section. The six-song, half-hour “Entrances” takes a different approach, more welcoming and playful, but no less unusual–the dawn after the dark.
Sometimes, the playfulness can be a drain; the formless, four-note meander “Jammed Exit” is interminable–a fact gently winked at by its false ending, six minutes into the song. Meanwhile, closer “Nervous Tech (Nah John)” is cut from similar cloth, but gives provides the album’s most convincing show of Dwyer’s histrionics.
There are some gems buried amongst the noodles. “The Poem” could almost pass for a early Nico cut, all nimble finger picking and Mellotron, and makes for one of the most straightforwardly beautiful things Dwyer has yet written. Likewise, “Unwrap the Fiend pt. 1” seems like Dwyer’s stab at writing a boneheaded instrumental anthem as indelible as “Here Come the Warm Jets”.
The cover of “A Weird Exits” may have left you unsure where to look first – the mound of sludge? the beast claw? the cobwebbed plant? – but it sounded like a single-minded statement of intent. The same artist is responsible for the image gracing “An Odd Entrances” (a centipede leaving a human ear), but that single arresting image belies the disappointing sprawl and confusion of its grooves.