Posted on May 28th, 2010 (1:57 am) by Molly O Brien

Here’s a story for you.

Once upon a time, there was a guitar. It was a self-respecting chordophone with six strings, and it was very happy with the way it sounded. The Vikings played it long ago, and those ruffle-collar-wearing Renaissance folks after them, not to mention a whole bunch of other people who just adored the clean, melodic sound of the guitar. Then the guitar was amplified, and though it got a whole lot louder, it basically sounded the same, until one day when some dude accidentally dislodged some essential amplifier tube, and all of a sudden the guitar sound was distorted. And it sounded awesome! So everyone started using it: Jimi and Jimmy, then Mick Jones and Iggy, all the way to Thurston Moore and Jack White. And the distorted guitar lived happily ever after.

Fuzzy hardcore guitars aren’t some mystical trade secret—they’re just about everywhere, including virtually every song on Thee Oh Sees’ new album Warm Slime. Thee Oh Sees, the San Francisco-based band fronted by longtime experimental music man John Dwyer, are freakishly prolific. You know the magical moment when a vending machine malfunctions and decides to spit out like seven Dr. Peppers at you when you only paid for one? That’s pretty much what these guys are doing, having released four LPs and a handful of EPs in just over two years. And Thee Oh Sees knows what they’re good at, which happens to be savage beat bashing, psych rock freakouts, and lots of guitar, heavy on the fuzz.

Warm Slime isn’t a bad name for this album, considering the general sound is heavy, grimy, and yes, warm in a weird way. Thee Oh Sees sound Rolling Stones-like at one moment, early Velvet Underground at another, yet never seem self-consciously retro. They can count 1-2-3-4 and bust out the garage rock in their sleep at this point. The album clocks in at just over a half an hour, which is still plenty of primal fuzz for all of us. Nothing is groundbreaking, and nothing stands out particularly in terms of sheer catchiness, but for those who love absorbing their rock in one giant monolithic rush, this’ll be the stuff you’ll go for.

The shenanigans start off right away with the title track, which is 13-and-a-half minutes long, a genuine marathon of feedback-heavy, off-kilter power chords and upper-register noodling. It’s got a nice groove and the rhythm change-ups are great; of particular interest are the background vocals (courtesy of Brigid Dawson) around 4:30, which sound like the Supremes minus Diana Ross when the tempo slows down, and which slowly break down into all-out yelps, drowned in feedback by the end. Accessible it ain’t, but it’s experimental and weird and even those who loathe the idea of noise rock will have that half-merry, half-creepy back-up melody in their heads long after the song is gone.

The remainder of the album is not as memorable, given each song features only slight variations in rhythm and structure; in a poor mood, it’s easy for them to blend together into a gigantic maelstrom of distortion, and maybe that’s the point. “I Was Denied” is an insistent, crash-happy track full of la-la-las, and “Flash Bats” has a great, murky bass-line, but the last two songs sound like they were produced without a lot of thought. At points the unrehearsed, loose nature of Thee Oh Sees’ instrument playing straddles the line between artfully disheveled and just plain messy.

If you dig on no-frills fuzz-rock, then Warm Slime will be a knockout. If you’re looking for variety, this probably isn’t the best album to choose. Thee Oh Sees are extremely productive, but they might have benefited from slowing down a bit and keeping an eye on their sound; everybody knows the line about quality being superior to quantity, and that seems to be the issue here. The almighty distorted guitar gets a pretty fair treatment overall, but one can’t help wishing for a little more thought to go with all that punk wallop.

Track list:
1. Warm Slime
2. I Was Denied
3. Everything Went Black
4. Castiatic Tackle
5. Flash Bats
6. Mega-feast
7. MT Work

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

59 / 100
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