As a reviewer, it goes without saying that some of the music you’re tasked with writing about won’t always be to your taste. When this happens, it’s usually quite easy to be able to say why you don’t like it, and then go on to pick out some redeeming features of the record. What can also happen, though thankfully not all that often, is you’re given a record and, even after five or six listens, you still haven’t formed a solid opinion on the piece. One such album was Singles Collection: Vol 3 from San Fran psychers, Thee Oh Sees.
Originally starting life in 1997 as the solo project of John Dwyer (Coachwhips, Pink and Brown), the band has since undergone several name and line-up changes on it’s journey from solo experimentalism in to the fully realised entity it is today.
Singles Collection: Vol 3 offers up a series of eleven surprisingly accessible tracks from a band renowned as much for their somewhat avant-garde tendencies, as their prolific back catalogue. With a much more garage rock, surf pop vibe going on than earlier releases, it is an easier listen than I anticipated though didn’t make it any easier for me to form an opinion, at least at first.
As it happens, …Vol 3 gives us a collection of some of Thee Oh Sees most recent tracks, such as the fuzz-drenched ‘Girls Who Smile’ and the turbulent scuzz of ‘Crushed Glass’ whilst also offering us live versions of older tracks like ‘Destroyed Fortress’. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the record, however, isn’t it’s own twisted take on garage rock, but it’s inability to settle in to any one niche. While there are grooves aplenty to be had in a musical sense, the record itself can’t find it’s own singular groove and stick to it, giving off a sense of erratic unpredictability intrinsic to the record’s appeal.
While the record does maintain a certain degree of accessibility, at least as far as the band in question are concerned, it isn’t without it’s more obscure moments, particularly ‘FB12’. Coming at the halfway point of the album, the track comes across as a stream-of-consciousness tirade from Dwyer, whose deranged and dogmatic vocal track is layered across pounding percussion and cacophonous instrumentation.
From there on out, however, it’s more or less plain sailing for the band, who take on a far more polished, traditional indie pop approach to the three studio tracks that follow. ‘Wait Let’s Go’ especially lifts the entire tone of the album, coming immediately after ‘FB12’ it feels like a breath of fresh air and it couldn’t come at a better moment whilst ‘Devil Again’ has an electronic bluesy feel and a fantastically offbeat vocal melody.
For someone who wasn’t accustomed to the music of Thee Oh Sees prior to this review, it seemed to take a lot of digging before the real quality of the record shone through. Sure it has it’s down moments (‘Burning Spear’) but overall there’s some quality, albeit somewhat spazmodic, garage rock on offer here. Singles Collection: Vol 3 probably isn’t a record for everyone but it’s certainly an interesting album in which the charm lies in the inability to conform to even the slightest of generic conventions.