Album Review: Osees – A Foul Form

[Castle Face; 2022]

Releasing 20-plus albums that range from garage psychedelia (Carrion Crawler/The Dream, Mutilator Defeated at Last) to prog-rock (Smote Reverser, Face Stabber) to avant-jazz (Castlemania) to spacey alt-Americana (A Weird Exits), The John Dwyer-led Thee Oh Sees, now known as Osees, seem capable of embracing any and all approaches at least proficiently, if not, as is more often the case, with notable flare and originality. 

Osees’ latest record, A Foul Form, the third outing released under the current moniker, shows the band again adopting a new stylistic challenge: hardcore, as forged by The Stooges, honed by Black Flag, Minority Report, Bad Brains, et al, and ongoingly contemporized by such acts as Ty Segall and CLAMM, whose own hardcore-indebted second LP, Care, releases this month. 

This is Osees’ most lo-fi, gritty, and dysphonic album to date, sounding as if it was recorded in a smoke-filled bomb shelter on the crappiest equipment the band could find. Suffice it to say, Osees have captured the spirit and legacy of ‘cassette punk’ – serrated textures, ear-stabbing glitches, growls bathed in cheap overdrive: a nihilistic freedom-fest and stentorian fuck-you to those who would attempt to squelch it.

And yet, as scuzzy as the 22-minute, 10-track sequence is, Dwyer’s criminally underrated songcraft and musical virtuosity reveal themselves consistently. “Funeral Solution” features staccato blasts that punctuate a relentless tempo; strategic pivots produce instrumental dynamics, crescendos, and decrescendos. On “Frock Block”, Dwyer’s vocals bring to mind Mayhem’s Dead locked in a basement on a meth binge, though Dwyer still manages to incorporate shifts in phrasing that serve as semi-hooky access points.

The title song is a speed-fueled and possibly tongue-in-cheek call to destruction, though beneath the hydrochloric mix a catchy riff cycles and recycles. “Fucking Kill Me” presents Dwyer as he alternates between a surprisingly funky guitar lick and blowtorch chords, his voice brimming with venom. With “Social Butt”, Dwyer assumes a mock-Brit accent, recalling Discharge’s Jeff Janiak or Broken Bones’ Nick Dobson.

While A Foul Form honors the history of hardcore, it also occurs as smartly topical, the band’s turbid rage and anti-aesthetic stance conjuring a post-capitalistic malaise and the decay of global culture. And though this set marks a pivot from previous work, spotlighting the band as they navigate a fresh battery of sonics, it’s unmistakably them. Over a roughly 20-year run, Thee Oh Sees have somehow turned eclecticism into a brand; the more wildly versatile they are, the more mysteriously singular they seem.