Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania (In The Red)

May 21, 2011 by  

Thee Oh Sees almost compulsory yearly release drops on June 14th in the form of Castlemania, the band’s 9th studio album. Castlemania marks something of a departure for the band: the unrelenting whacked-out garage of previous albums is still present, but punctuated by effervescent psychedelia reminiscent of Magical Mystery Tour Beatles.

It’s fair to say that Castlemania is an album with a dual personality: on the one hand, it revives the light-hearted West Coast psychedelia of the 1960s and on the other, it continues the rock and horror garage of The Mummies, The Cramps et al. It is testament to Thee Oh Sees capability that they combine these seemingly disparate elements so artfully. Take Corrupted Coffin, for instance; an incessant guitar riff combines with screeching tapes and guitar freak-outs to create a typically incendiary garage track. Yet, by the time we reach Pleasure Blimps, we are in summer of love territory: tambourines, xylophones, guitars and “la la la’s” abound in homage to the optimistic psych of the late 60’s. The hallucinatory rambling of Stinking Cloud combines this bipolarity in a light-hearted morbidity that is the albums zenith and the apotheosis of John Dwyer’s vision on Castlemania. When he says of the album, it’s “songs about bad things, packaged in a summery record about getting numb to life and it’s little pleasures as you take it for granted with age,” it relates most strikingly to this track.

There is no absolute refrain from the darkness of Castlemania; when an acoustic guitar appears, it is played with brash conviction and menacing reverb disturbs the psychedelic haze of Stinking Cloud (even the name betrays a languishing core). Things are even weirder in the album’s lead track, I Need Seed; a call and response verse leads into a chorus of “I need seed/to throw up the grass/to throw up the trees.” Grating lead vocals detract from the esoteric imagery of the song, however, and thwart its overall impact. Apart from I Need Seed, the vocals on Castlemania are a major accomplishment. Atypically for Thee Oh Sees, Dwyer’s voice is relatively free of effects, which gives the listener the opportunity to appreciate the depth of his talent as a lyricist and immerse themselves in his surrealist visions.

Castlemania is a very strong album with few flaws and it becomes even more impressive when you consider the rapidity at which the band releases new records. I imagine it would sound its best on vinyl, since it is so reminiscent of the sounds from that formats heyday. In the meantime, take a listen to the albums lead single, I Need Seed and prepare to get weird.

[rating:4.5]


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