John Dwyer is a man whose name is associated with waves of excitement, and for good reason. A native of Rhode Island, Dwyer has fronted several great punk bands since 1997, including Pink & Brown, Coachwhips, and The Hospitals. Most notably however, he is the frontman and lead guitarist of San Fransico powerhouse group, Thee Oh Sees, or The Oh C’s. Or is it just Oh Sees now? I can’t remember. Anyway, the band has put is known as the underground staple for energetic brand of psychedelic-rock, putting out 19 full length LP’s and touring relentlessly since 2003.
The group has also undergone various lineup changes over the years, an essential part to their writing process. So why should anyone expect differently for their end of year release: Memory Of a Cut Off Head. Cut off sees several changes and return forms in meaningful ways, firstly with the return of longtime Thee Oh Sees collaborator and former keyboardist Brigid Dawson. Secondly the band decided to use the moniker OCS, which many fans would know was the original name for the band, until 2005. The big change comes in the form of something slightly unexpected in that technically this isn’t a record by Thee Oh Sees, it’s by the OCS. Confused? Don’t worry I was too. Basically, Dawson and Dwyer got together and decided to write songs under OCS umbrella but not tour as heavily as Oh Sees. For those looking for healthy dose of pounding drums and fuzz drenched guitars, then I’m sorry to say that this isn’t the record for you. Cut Off Head, instead brings us back to much simpler time in the band’s discography, when they were the proponents of genre dubbed “Freak folk” (take from that what you will).
On this album, we’re in a field of frolicking acoustic guitars and tripped out synthesizers, which is especially apparent on opening/ title track “Memory Of A Cut Off Head”. The production on track is refreshing, allowing every instrument to breathe and intermingle, in healthy and very relaxing manner. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle accompaniment of a string section in this song. As the track list progresses however, OCS begins to experiment with various sounds and it comes off as though the duo disregarded a cohesive sound, making Cut Off Head appear to be more like a compilation album more than solid LP. This change is notable on cuts such as “The Baron Sleeps and Dreams”, a song that starts off with a melancholy string section that quickly shifts into a three-minute exploration keyboard landscapes and unfortunately this section seems to meander. The case can be argued for the track “The Chopping Block”, although a very well written, heartfelt elegy to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, the song ultimately feels out of place in the context of this album. But there are exceptional golden moments on this record, such as the track “The Fool”, spearheaded by Dawson’s soulful vocals and a somber keyboard and violin. It stands as possibly one of the best breakup songs I’ve heard in a while. However erratic the record may feel, there seems to be underlining theme, at least sonically. On Cut Off Head, OCS channel the energies of their past and present and attempting to lay out their future. Dealing with the expected slices of psychedelia from all across the board.
Overall Memory Of A Cut Off Head, although it feeling inconsistent throughout its 40 minute run, should be quite a pleasant listening experience for new comers and those who are already familiar with the bands discography.