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Garage rock is currently experiencing a golden age thanks in large part to the fast-paced release schedule of the scenes west-coast veterans. The most recognizable figure in the recent revival is Ty Segall who almost always filters his uncanny songwriting ability through the classic Nuggets-era garage sound. Obviously there are outliers to the rule, specifically side projects Fuzz and Ty Segall Band, but for the most part his sound is firmly entrenched in the 60s. In fact, Ty's popularity and reliance on Nuggets-influenced garage rock has led to it becoming the norm in modern garage rock. There has been an incredible amount of outstanding music as well as exposure to a genre which had been largely forgotten by the masses, but there has also been a great saturation of the scene. Therefore, much like the original garage rock scene of the 1960s, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the good and bad, as well as original and tired material. It is within the ever-increasing monotony of garage rock that the godfather of modern garage, John Dwyer, has been able to thrive. His eclectic set of influences, in addition to his tireless work effort has been an excellent jump start to a genre which had been started to show its age. Thus, it is no surprise Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees are once again behind the garage/psych album of the year.
After eight albums under Thee Oh Sees moniker Dwyer has established a release pattern in which he releases what is essentially a solo album that is followed up by an album with the full band. Although Dwyer is front and center on all the albums, the solo albums allow for more experimentation and freedom, while the full group albums better showcase the fury and force behind Thee Oh Sees live performance. The pattern begun in 2011 with the releases of Dwyer’s first ‘solo’ album, the bizarre psych-pop Castlemania and its incredible follow up, the kraut-punk masterwork Carrion Crawler/The Dream EP. The pattern continued in 2012 after the excellent one-two punch of Putrifiers II and Floating Coffin. Therefore, following last year’s mainly solo Drop, Mutilator Defeated At Last features an entire band that creates an incredibly harmonious, tight and fleshed out sound.
A large reason Dwyer is able to transform the sound of Thee Oh Sees in such a consistent manner is the work of Chris Woodhouse, who is once again at the helm for Mutilator. Although Woodhouse has done significant work in the garage rock scene in the past, 2015 will be the year his name starts being discussed with top tier producers, as his work with Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and WAND are all obtaining serious acclaim. The beauty of Woodhouse’s production is his ability to document an artist’s raw energy which is often limited to live performances. An excellent example of his ability can be heard on the newest WAND album Golem which presented a much more raw, aggressive and volatile sound than the fuzzed-out Tame Impala sound which dominated their debut. While it cannot be said Mutilator is the groups most raw, aggressive and volatile album, it is definitely the most concise and complete album. Dwyer and Woodhouse have been working together for over ten years allowing them a wealth of material to reference on Mutilator, and it these references that make the album so complete and successful. The most immediate reference point for the album is the kraut-punk fury of Carrion Crawler as both “Withered Hand” and “Rogue Planet” use motoric beats in an attempt to keep the chaos somewhat grounded. The general aesthetic of Carrion Crawler is continued with stand-out track “Lupine Ossuary” which almost sounds like a more kraut-punk version of the wonderful Putrifiers II track “Lupine Dominus”. Dwyer’s more experimental side is also showcased on closer “Palace Doctor” which is easily the most psychedelic track on the album and features an almost Radiohead-esque groove. “Palace Doctor” also makes the best use of a full band, as the somewhat jazzy instrumentation is amplified by two drummers.
While the return of a full band is welcome news to fans of the group, none aroused more excitement than the return of longtime member Brigid Dawson, whose cool voice has always acted as the perfect antidote to Dwyer’s madman yelp. Further, the return of Brigid also signifies the return of keyboards to Thee Oh Sees sound which play a central role on the album, specifically on second half stand out track “Sticky Hulks”. “Sticky Hulks” will likely be the consensus favorite track on the album as it begins with a slow, drawling organ that would not sound out of place with the bizarre, psych-heavy Castlemania. The nearly seven minute track also acts as an introduction to the albums more spacey second half. The largely acoustic “Holy Smoke” sounds unlike anything Thee Oh Sees have released before as its main influence appears to be drawn from the folksy sound of Led Zeppelin III. However, Brigid’s subtle synth creates an eerie, paranormal vibe which allows Dwyer’s acoustic to operate on another level. Brigid’s presence is felt more immediately on the Led Zeppelin influenced “Turned Out Light” which combines an infectious riff with lead vocals from Brigid to create one of the albums most poppy moments.
The omnipresent influence of the Nuggets compilation has created a redundancy and oversaturation within garage that has left many to question the longevity and originality of the recent revival. Further, when a band releases music at a breakneck pace like John Dwyer, the artist will always run the risk of running stale. Luckily, Mutilator Defeated At Last provides a new look at both garage rock as well as Thee Oh Sees. By combining the best elements of previous releases, Thee Oh Sees have crafted their most balanced, effective and consistent album in their long, prolific history.