JOHN DWYER’S Osees. I mean, they’re an absolute force of nature; a vivacious, fiery, disciplined, fun, piledriving force.
If you’ve never seen them, by jiminy you need to: kinda meh at Vampire Weekend on the main stage, I wandered into their second-stage headline set at End of the Road in 2018 and stopped dead. Absolutely dead. Barely moved a muscle for the next 75 minutes, except to mutter the occasional admiring expletive into my companions’ ears.
Marc Riley had good cause to call them the best live band on the planet right now; they’re metronomic, dazzling, in yer fucking face.
And they’re releasing their 22nd LP in 14 years this Friday – John and his band seem to follow Mark E Smith’s assertion of being a proper, working band – in the shape of Protean Threat. Face Stabber was a year or so ago now. Time passes fast. We need another blitz of slightly prog-inflected, straight into yer chest garage-punk. Now more than ever. Catharsis. A snarl that channels that angst, that fear, that fury. All that dirty emotion of this year. And John himself is, of course, fully aware of how it is; witness this excerpt from the accompanying press release which announced the album, which we reproduce sic erat scriptum – yes, it was all in capitals:
“WITNESS THE EVER-CHANGING, EVER-MUTATING THREAT THAT IS
PERCEPTION IS UNDER DURESS
SENSIBILITY IS BENDING EVERYDAY UNDER THE BARRAGE OF NONSENSE
WE MUST MAKE NOTE OF WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE HAVE BECOME
LOOK INTO THE MIRROR OF THE PLANET-KILLERS
PSYCHIC CANNIBALS INFILTRATE AND CONTAMINATE ONCE FAMILIAR AND SEEMINGLY SECURE TERRITORIES
FORMIDABLE FOES INDEED
WHAT POWERS THESE BEASTS?
WHAT FUELS DISCORD AND HATRED?
THE BEHEMOTH OF A “CIVIL” SOCIETY?
WHAT ARE THE WEAPONS AT OUR DISPOSAL?
GENEROSITY IS YOUR AEGIS AGAINST GREED
EMPATHY IS YOUR ARMOR TO DEFLECT APATHY
LOVE IS YOUR CLUB TO ABATE HATE
THE FOG IS LIFTING AND HUMANS ARE OPENING THEIR EYES
AND SO WE OFFER THIS FIELD RECORDING FROM THE PITS
AS A QUICK BOOSTER BETWEEN PROTEIN PILLS AND RECYCLED SWEAT BEVERAGE
ANTHEMS TO ASSIST YOU
TO NOT WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF VIOLENCE AND GREED
TO NOT OFFER YOURSELVES UP FOR FREE
TO STAND UP AND BE VIGILANT
TRUTH WILL NOT BE FOUND IN THE SPEECHES AND PHOTO OPS OF YOUR OVERLORDS
STAND STRONG AND TOGETHER UNDER THE GAZE OF YOUR OPPRESSORS
STAND VIGILANT, UNITED WITH THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE THE SAME PRIVILEGE AS YOU.
DEMAND RESPECT AND A PEACEFUL LIFE FOR ALL …
… BE STRONG
The next thing you notice about Protean Threat is that the artwork is more abstract than the Tolkienesque figures that adorn many recent releases, such as the aforementioned Face Stabber, Orc, and Smote Reverser. It’s a steely, interlocking pattern; oh yeah, there’s that loss of a letter too – from Oh Sees to Osees. Somewhere in the Far East, a garage-punk betting syndicate is running a book on which letter goes next, like a fully inked, take-no-prisoners aural take on Mark Dunn’s novel Ella Minnow Pea. Do these subtle codings signal a change of direction?
Put the needle down and you can rest assured. “Scramble Suit II” – the title a nod to the shape-shifting disguises used by the undercover cops in Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly – and you’re in a wall of fuzz, charging at you on a tribal tomtom rumble; fuzz cubed, fuzzfuzzfuzz. A stripped back, ascending punk riff gives way to a verse in which John’s vocals seem to have a weird helium treatment, pitched up, alien. It’s that weird absolute commitment to the extremes of what’s possible with garage punk, playing off a slight prog exploratory edge, that makes Osees such a curious prospect.
The 90-second glam fracture of “Dreary Nonsense” ushers you on and into “Upbeat Ritual”, which has space, an almost P-funk sorta commitment to dazzle, John’s guitars wailing in that enthralling, wobbly way, synth wooshes sprinkled atop. “Red Study” has this riff with a slight tonal delay that’s Middle Eastern, before getting down and sleazy with scuzzy bass. There’s a sparse acid-punk riff, all Pebbles and Texas Flashbacks.
“Terminal Jape” – this is the nads. Fuzz so towering you back away for fear of collapse brings you into a world of barked lyrics, disciplined riffing. This is when you know you could shed a tear, cos you need to see them live right about … oh, now. “Wing Ruin” pulls out in a more krautrocky direction; it’s all that twin drum motorik, over which weird synth figures and some more mathrocky intricacy prevail.
“Said The Shovel” swaggers into your world on a Chocolate Watch Band-style bass figure, actual howls, a double-time organ break. It’s mysterious, absolutely in the tradition of the best 60s’ garage-punk. “Mizmuth” comes at ya plain nasty. You want that fuzz riff to abrade you, leave you sore. There’s little elements of Golden Earring in here, to your writer’s ears; the hash smoke is redolent.
“I Had My Eye” is another brilliant pebble, John’s vocals reverbed up and sleazy. “Everybody look up! / Are you in love? / Are you free, are you ali-i-i-ive,” implores John with that dreamy menace you get in Love at their best. it’s hellish groovy; take a listen to our embed, below.
“I Had My Eye” one-twos beautifully with the open wah-wah boogie hip grind of “Toadstool”: at almost five minutes, a veritable suite by Osees standards. Gong Of Catastrophe”: be thinking the percussive discipline of Jaki Leibezeit, early 70s’ organs, stoned to the max.
“Persuaders Up!” closes things in one of those direct attacks that will absolutely upend you in concert. It’s direct, has these spliffy synths and muted chord chopping. I need to hear this very loud and very live.
How to summate this album? With their prodigious work rate and carving of a subtle sphere all of their own, Osees also exist in something of a separate critical context – a bit like The Fall or Sun Ra, you can become drunk on the weight of releases. But with a nicely varied blend of fuzz-blitz system shockers, more krautrocky percussive propulsion, outright trippier synth and organ stylings, roll a lazy fat one and be sure Osees have your best and also your scuzziest interests at heart.
Osees’ Protean Threat will be released on digital, CD and vinyl formats this Friday, September 18th. Click through to Castleface here if you’re ordering in the US; or Piccadilly Records here, in the UK.