One of the nice things about prolific bands is that, if you don't like the record they put out this year, all you have to do is wait a year or so, and something new will come out to scratch your itch. In the case of Thee Oh Sees in 2011, however, that wait was a matter of mere months: the recently released Carrion Crawler/The Dream trailed its predecessor by less than half a year. Anyway, let's talk about the first one first, as is accepted custom.
Castlemania sports a more stripped down, recorded-at-home sound than most previous Thee Oh Sees releases, so much so that it wouldn't surprise me if John Dwyer recorded it mostly on his own. So, yeah, it sounds different but that isn't the problem. The weakness of this release is inherent in its production and vibe, which trades the rollicking psych-garage of what I associate with this band for a more song/melody oriented style, Dwyer twisting his voice in a borderline-bratty, nasally direction and simultaneously playing more acoustic guitar. This means the title track and 'Corprophagist' are kind of awesome but also kind of annoying, the mid-fi production working against the band for once. The more song oriented direction also means that the focus is put more on Dwyer's vocals, which aren't really up to these songs. Or anyway, don't always fit them well.
And the songs also kind of don't sound like Thee Oh Sees, which isn't a good or bad thing. Well, it's not a good or bad thing for your average band, but when you're as maddeningly prolific as Dwyer, it makes you seem restless and indecisive. He certainly has never had a problem putting out releases under other names, so why not this one? After all, the few stabs at full-band garage rock on Castlemania sound like half-cooked leftovers from the preceding Warm Slime, almost like he was throwing us a bone to prove it really is an album from Thee Oh Sees and not solo stuff. All of this combined with the acoustic psych-pop tracks like the excellent 'I Need Seed' and the weird stuff like 'Idea For A Rubber Dog' means this album is a mess. Ultimately it's an enjoyable mess yet it's also exhausting and only partially satisfying.
3 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5
Carrion Crawler/The Dream
Since this release was originally going to be two separate EPs, you might assume it would be even more messy and all-over-the-place than Castlemania. Yet with the full band in tow, including a propulsive two drummer backbone, Carrion Crawler/The Dream ends up being one of the best records Thee Oh Sees have ever put out.
With the emphasis firmly back on recorded-live-style production and energetic dynamics, this record may not sport as many memorable melodies as Castlemania but the hooks and playing more than make up for it. Try listening to 'Wrong Idea' or 'Chem-Farmer' and not wanting to get up and groove, or at the very least, nod your head along. Even though they're primarily instrumental, the pounding drums and choppy guitar lines make these songs some of the most memorable on this album, not to mention some of the finest in the band's catalog to drive or rock out to.
It's those moments of a great rock band in full flight which define Carrion Crawler/The Dream, from the way the band sort of jam their way into the opening of 'Carrion Crawler' to Dwyer's scorched guitar solos and exclamatory screams to the way 'Robber Barons' sounds like Wooden Shjips mixed with White Fence. Dwyer's Castlemania-style vocal delivery is mostly absent on this record, though when it does appear, as on the bass driven 'Crack In Your Eye', it works far better in this context.
Prolificacy doesn't always mean spreading yourself too thin (just ask Robert Pollard), and if anything, Carrion Crawler/The Dream makes the preceding Castlemania all the more interesting because of how different it is. As far as I'm concerned, this band (or even Dwyer alone) could put out two records a year and I'd never get bored because there's always some unique wrinkle going on, whether it's the lengthy title track of Warm Slime or the sparing use of psychedelic effects on tracks like 'You Will See This Dog Before You Die.' Anyway, this is classic Thee Oh Sees all the way, and easily one of the best things they've ever done.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5