Drop opens with some robotic triads, sliding riff-heavy and hard into “Penetrating Eye”. John Dwyer tackles six instruments on the album, including synthesizer, percussion, and the Mellotron – it’s one of his jack-of-all-trades albums, and appropriately, he’s even credited for taking the band photo. Vocalist Brigid Dawson is noticeably absent, although guest vocalist Greer McGettrick provides a few (quite unnoticeable, to be honest) harmonies.
Songs like “Camera” and “Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Sound)” showcase fun dueling guitars, perhaps a product of the album’s guest Mikal Cronin, who is a past collaborator with the likes of Ty Segall. Title-track “Drop” is sunny and the most garage rock of the bunch; it’s the perfect reintroduction after a long winter where Thee Oh Sees’ existence hung in perilous limbo.
If it wasn’t for a few funhouse peculiarities that are hallmark Oh Sees – a screeching sax, the chameleonic Mellotron – the record would be less appealing and more been-there, heard-that. There’s White Stripes-esque chordwork in “Penetrating Eye”, heavy David Bowie in “The King’s Nose”. Thankfully, Dwyer recorded this record in a banana-ripening warehouse, and the clouds of ethylene infused just enough weirdness.
Overall, Drop is a strong album – not a huge departure from Minotaur, which was released around a year ago. I saw Thee Oh Sees play Minotaur last year at the Rickshaw, and while they were a riot amongst the crowd, there is a certain raucous monotony to both albums: the songs are lively but tough to tell apart, and it’s hard to determine if one is stellar enough to stand out from the pack. I suppose this is the essence of psychedelic rock, though.
Perhaps I’m biased as I’ll always be partial to the fragile, off-kilter parcels found on the long-ago Hounds of Foggy Notion. However, I was rewarded by the last track on Drop, “The Lens”, which is softer, melodic, and still tinged with strangeness. The absence of guitar lets a mélange of strings and sax shine, and the album concludes with a Beatles-esque flourish, surprisingly.
There’s a marked reference to visuality in song titles: “Penetrating Eye”, “Camera”, “Transparent World”, “The Lens”. Metaphor for the crushing public gaze? Acid-like effects of banana-ripening chemicals? In nearly every song, Dwyer’s lyrics meditate on visual perception. After carefully listening to all, and surrounded by Dwyer’s chanting anthem, “You can’t see me, I can’t see you,” I decided that Dwyer is in character as a Dickens-era ghost lamenting his inability to communicate with humanity except through the odd, distorted sounds. Then I realized I may be over-thinking this, slightly.
Later on the album, Dwyer sings, “Life is a camera, and I can’t get near ya,” then dives into his usual “ooh-la-la”s and sighing “ahhs,” which I’ll take as a sign to not seek metaphors too deeply in anything.
Lest we get too analytical, Drop is an enjoyable album bursting with energy, and it’s fitting that it was released on Record Store day. Take that as a hint to go buy it on vinyl today.