ALBUM REVIEW: John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas and Greg Coates – ‘Witch Egg’

SAY what you like about John Dwyer, Gibson SG-lordin’ overseer of all things Osees and an ever-expanding web of collaborative and side projects: what Mark E Smith would’ve called, in paraphrase, a proper working band. No roadies, they load in, load out – them’s the rules; absolute live potency, that’s the name of the game.

IF YOU thought a mere four albums in 2020 – the twin suns of Protean Threat and its through-the-looking-glass rerub Panther Rotate, the limited Metamorphose and the cassette-only Levitation Sessions – would maybe dry the wellspring of Osees’ John Dwyer, well boy! were you ever wrong.

Actually, it turns out we were wrong too in our initial album announcement a few weeks back, because there was also August’s Bent Arcana project, pushing waywardly into a kinda krautrock/electric Miles fusion space; and the Damaged Bug album from February last, in which John covered selections from the oeuvre of out-psychedelicist Michael Yonkers. Six, then. Six albums in 2020. Can we agree on that? I mean, feck. That’s an album every eight weeks. Is that even King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard I see fading fast in the rear-view mirror of psychedelic productivity? Time to draw breath, mayhap.

… wrong again. With 2021 just three weeks old, John’s back at the musical coalface with a new associate project already locked and loaded and ready to fire on Rock Is Hell on January 22nd, Witch Egg, to be released under the collaborator’s monikers: John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas and Greg Coate.

C’mon, who did you take him for? Axl Rose?

Nick Murray and Tom Dolas are the other current Osees men to follow John across for this outing, joining sax man Brad Caulkins and Greg Coates for an album of improvised psych-sax-skronk.

If anything, John pulls away from the coastal psych a little and more towards a turn-of-the-millennium Windy City vibe, encouraging that sax to howl free like The Chicago Underground Trio or somesuch; letting the atmospheres unfold.

Of course, the Witch Egg announcement comes with a missive in John’s unique hand, which twould be rude not to reproduce herein:


“Transmission incoming …
Alien sound waves have been bouncing off the side of our ship.
We’ve managed to capture some of them on plastic.
They appear suddenly out of the vacuum.
Projected by planets
Beamed through stars
Reflected off debris
Hanging in space like dust motes
Memories of planetary habitation.

“Witch egg is a improvised set of songs by John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Greg Coates & Tom Dolas.
Another fried expedition out in the wilds.
Recorded and mixed at Stu-Stu-Studio by John Dwyer
This one is a burner designed optimally for your eco-pod sound system.
When you’ve left the world behind, you will need a soundtrack while you lay in dream stasis
This is it.”

You get an octet of tracks for your bucks, but hurry if you’re of a wax persuasion, as the pressing is strickly limited; may, in fact, be already gone by the time you clap eyes on this; which is a shame and we can but beg for a repress, since although it’s not Osees in full effect, it’s a lot of wayward psych-jazz fun.

The album opens with “Green Pools”, which begins as all freakbeat-mod energy, those ringing sustained fourth chords just begging for a windmilling arm. Brad’s sax lifts the track out in new directions as feedback judders and other guitars crash; the six strings and drums seem to inhabit a high-energy 1967 kinda vibe, while the sax and bass face off from the jazz side of things. There’s distorted organ vamping away, as if Ronnie Lane was aboard for a session with Pharoah Sanders. Don’t believe us? We’ve embedded this three-minute slice of inverted mod jazz down below. Climb in.

“Green Pools” was joined before Christmas in a twin, announcing single drop by “City Maggot”, which it segues straight into; it’s a mellower confection, even funky, once it lifts from neo-ambience all frosted with grainy sax throatiness. It’s like a low-key chase interlude from the chase scene of some rarely seen New York film circa 1971. Which is an excellent thing to be. Acid synths pop and flutter and interject, escapees from a Stereolab studio.

“Your Hatless Friend” continues in that film-theme mode; The Taking Of Pelham 123 springs to mind (and I’m talking the proper one, not the bloodless remake). It’s the wind whirling rubbish on semi-industrial blocks, a simple bass and drum thing just a nuanced propulsion for the flow of feedback and sax and other intriguing noise up top. The pace quickens and an organ begins to improvise, the sax to curl, guitars violin. There’s a sonic mimicking of approaching squad cars as it concludes. It’s for you to visualise what hoodlums’ doings have spilled into the streets.

Cracking the shell of the title track, “Witch Egg”, we’re into the greenish yolk of things; it’s loose, atmospheric, John seemingly at his electronic boxes of tricks to conjure whoops and swooshes over a military snare, the basic frame a descending chord progression à la Sixties spy serial. A harpsichord would pull it further in that direction, but that would be much too obvious; it remains an eerie and skeletal essay in psych-garage atmospheres, and you couldn’t even quite put your finger on who else might arrive at this juncture; maybe a bleaker Heliocentrics. Maybe.

“Baphomet”, named for the dark, horned deity beloved of mystics and gnostics and all kinds of explorers of the other, doesn’t let you down should you wish to surf the thermals of the cosmic. It comes over like Mort Garson, all dark synth tone building to a ringing crescendo, full of nocturnal chill, while the sax and drums lock in a juddering energy, lilting, keeping it just about in check, that rhythm section pounding away, limbs and hair metaphorically flailing and tribal and lost like Jaki Liebezeit. It clocks in at just below the eight-minute mark, and it needs to: think an intersection of early, lab-coated Moog explorers, the best of pungent krautrock and maybe Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp letting the sax flow. Superbly, weirdly superb. -ly weird.

“Sekhu” is equally cosmic, wholly in orbit, but tones down the spin a little, gives your head space to reassemble. A little. It’s kraut-astral rock, with an exhaling synth flutter pulsing away and pinging, plucked strings, gentle wah-wah, insistent rhythm. If “Baphomet” is lift-off, the acceleration free of gravity’s clutches, then “Sekhu” is the zero-friction jam beyond. Give in. It concludes in some lovely double bass, ice cool and an unexpected coda coloration.

If John teaches you one thing, it’s this: never be complacent. Located on the astral plane we may be, but after the Eastern mysticism of the past two tracks, I think we’re safely back and contemporarily Stateside for “Arse”. Inelegantly titled perhaps, but it’s a warming, spacious polyrhythm, based on a little guitar trill that keeps it just about in formation, while Brad Caulkins gradually chips away at the sax melody, pulling it open like a skein of wool, lets it float away. Trippy drums like oncoming anaesthesia call it a wrap.

We depart this particular test tube in Professor Dwyer’s ever-creating lab with the parting shot of “On Your Own Now”, which begins once more in cosmic synth, before slooowing right down into a loose jazz break, Brad’s sax calling forth plaintive figures worthy of a rainy dusk. It’s almost a 90s’ nujazz thing, with a reverbed snare shuffle. And that was completely unexpected.

If anything, Witch Egg lifts the many-tentacled exploration of John Dwyer ever furthur, to borrow a misspelling from Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; there’s so many ideas herein, from so many genres and eras: mod, krautrock, free jazz, even acid jazz; ideas are arrived at, explored at once, captured, moved on from. It speaks much of the restless creativity at the heart of this, John Dwyer – but also how he loves to collaborate, because here he’s very much one of the musicians at play on this, in play, ego-free and ready to hear more. Be more.

He’s properly got the music in him. When we reach Christmas 2021, what kind of expanded musical palette, will he have brought us? Hell, there’s probably at least another two albums of some incarnation in the can as I write.

Bravo, John, and all who sail alongside you.

John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas and Greg Coates’ Witch Egg will be released by Rock Is Hell records on vinyl on January 22nd – place your order here; it’s available only on digital download from John Dwyer at his Bandcamp page; or visit your local record store (Rough Trade are currently sold out on the red vinyl pre-order).

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