By Jamie McNamara
Memory of A Cut Off Head
Castle Face Records
Leave it to John Dwyer to change things up just when everything started to sound comfortable. Going from Thee Oh Sees, to Oh Sees, to OCS in the span of a year, the notoriously productive garage rock legend ditches the prog headiness of August’s Orc for the freak folk sound of his earliest work on Memory of a Cut Off Head (MOACOH).
Despite a return to the acoustic adventures of a band now five-or-so iterations removed from this current lineup, MOACOH is a surprisingly efficient melding of Oh Sees prog-indebted jams and OCS’ original psych country ramblings. The songs here are quintessential Dwyer, featuring winding guitar lines and odd song structures. This is folk music filtered through a kaleidoscopic acid haze. Gone are the dueling drummers and krautrock pulse of the last few Oh Sees records, replaced by reedy violin and a jester’s wit. Still, even without the propulsive guitar riffs and high-tempos of Dwyer’s last few projects, MOACOH still retains a few jam impulses.
That is very much true on tracks like “On and On Corridor,” featuring drummer Nick Murray crushing some funk-indebted licks that would make the late Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit smile with glee.
One of the more noticeable changes between MOACOH and Dwyer’s work from two decades ago is just how well produced this album is. Horn and string arrangements from Mikal Cronin flourish here, filling every nook and cranny of the record with a wistful air.
On tracks like “Cannibal Planet,” gentle electronic murmurs courtesy of a Juno 6 and electric bagpipes bring to mind Dwyer’s other solo project Damaged Bug. Many of the lyrics on the album are also classic Dwyer, to the point that MOACOH feels like the same record OCS have made many times before. “Oh what a day / I lost my body / A feast for beast and all mankind / I am prescription filled / for your mind,” Dwyer croons on the title track, in his quintessentially nonsensical way. With its plinky harpsichord, standout track “The Remote Viewer” feels like a medieval fair rendition of a track from 2016’s A Weird Exits. It features one of the most straightforward choruses in the Dwyer catalog and it’s absolutely addictive after a few listens. That goes for much of MOACOH; it won’t sink its hooks into immediately. Given time, however, these psychedelic excursions will unfurl and wrap their tendrils around you.
Castle Face, Memory of A Cut Off Head, OCS, Record Review, Thee Oh Sees