Over the course of six years and a torrent of LPs, EPs, and 7-inches, Thee Oh Sees both embodied the greasy charm of gutbucket garage-rock and demonstrated to other bands in the genre that an adventurous spirit can thrive inside a traditionalist framework. Hotrod ’50s rockabilly, demented psychedelia, super-charged surf, mind-melting Krautrock, ear-shredding noise — all of these styles and more could be heard on TOS’ myriad releases, sometimes working in concert, other times colliding in thrillingly abrasive ways. Thee Oh Sees conveyed this sensibility most profoundly on stage, where frontman John Dwyer could be seen mugging maniacally over a maniacal Bo Diddley-goes-Can rhythm like an acid-addled Jerry Lee Lewis.
In the studio, Thee Oh Sees have been similarly prodigious and occasionally exhausting, wearing out some ardent admirers by releasing multiple records per year. For those fans, scarcity might make the heart grow fonder — in advance of the new album Drop, Dwyer announced that Thee Oh Sees were going on extended hiatus. Dwyer is relocating to L.A. from his long-time home base in San Francisco, and the other band members are also scattering to new climes. While a handful of new shows in California and Europe were announced last week, the band’s future remains unclear.
If Drop is Thee Oh Sees’ swan song, it also functions as a handy primer for this stealthily diverse band. Opening with a menacing double-shot of muscle-car psych-punk in “Penetrating Eye” and “Encrypted Bounce,” Drop swings swiftly through Dwyer’s various guises as an acolyte of Syd Barrett (“Savage Victory”), fractured art-punk (“Put Some Reverb On My Brother”), and uglied-up AM pop (“Camera (Queer Sound)”). In the record’s final third, Dwyer takes a sharp turn into prog, tricking out “King’s Noise” with stinging Keith Emerson keyboard fills. By the last track “The Lens,” he’s gone full-on baroque, murmuring against a softly churning cello, exiting the record (and possibly Thee Oh Sees, though who knows with this unpredictable band) on an incongruously quiet note.