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OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head (Castle Face Records)

OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head
1 December 2017

John Dwyer and his latest iteration of merry (and scary) makers have followed up this August’s Orc with yet another full length, Memory of a Cut Off Head, just in time before the year comes to a close, repeating the same LP brace they achieved the year prior. Any in the profession of critiquing with dissenting opinions on the group have attacked, albeit understandably, their approach and relative indistinguishability between records; although Memory may represent a contrarian flagship for the time being. Its crafting was not one of defiance however, and the backstory shows that the unalike end result of their latest work bears great affinity to their earliest work. The “back to basics” ethic here can be chalked up to a cyclical tribute to the past, rather than mere happenstance. For those playing along at home: this is not only OCS’ 20th release together, but Castle Face Records’ 100th title overall. Something special needed to be done to commemorate the occasion, and so Dwyer changed the instrumental environs and even tweaked the project name to better resemble those humble beginnings.

The moments in which electric guitar is featured are few, and even at that, its presence is oft masked or countered by other interesting tools such as the sly, delicious Mellotron in “On and On Corridor.” Dwyer’s arsenal of tricks reaches its delirious apex on “Time Turner,” a six-minute drone piece that buzzes about with electric bagpipes whose staying power would warrant a skipping of the track were it not for Brigid Dawson’s balancing, calm cooing. Dawson’s return is warmly received as always, and rather than serve as a complimentary vocalist to Dwyer, she commands the lead on the aforementioned song as well as “The Fool,” the album’s sullen, aching highlight. It’s a lament worthy of cover performances at open mic nights for posterity, which is a possible first for the catalogue.

Dwyer’s manic yelp and fuzzy guitar assaults have been the defining factors of the past ten or so releases, and it is his reticence in both fronts that really give the entire band individual value. He hasn’t taken the backseat per se; his contribution is still vital, it’s just easier to recognize the other members for the cogs that they are. Returning bassist Tim Hellman holds down “Cannibal Planet” all on his own with a sashaying groove that recalls the freneticism of “Poor Queen.” Past contributor Nick Murray expertly smooths out the transition going from three straight albums of dual drummers to just one with a hushed introduction. His brushwork on the titular opening track is a polarized answer to where the collective left off on “Raw Optics” – essentially a four-minute drum solo sandwiched between two one-minute slices of full band action – and rather than jar the ear, it feels right at home; proving that at least once, the unexpected makes for the best greeting.

“Hushed” and “sullen” have rarely applied as descriptors in their recent tenure as Oh Sees and Thee Oh Sees, and listeners would likely be remiss to think that we’ll see vastly more of the rollicking acoustic journey of Memory’s titular track or the Elephant 6-esque baroque jaunt of “Lift a Finger by the Garden Path” in the immediate future. For now, Dwyer and company have gifted fans with something both new and old, at once echoed and timely.

You may purchase the record here.