By Jake Paxton
Masters of minimalist surf psychedelic Thee Oh Sees return again in 2015 with Mutilator Defeated At Last and I have never been more excited to have my ears bleed this much. This is without any question one of the most incredible albums I’ve heard in this genre to date; a collage of noise and melody that seems to be loud even when sedate.
Last year’s Drop was an interesting departure for them, and now they have come back to their roots with high energy, all octane kraut rock while displaying more musical versatility in nine songs than most artists could over an entire career. Track by track, it is simply perfection, giving you a taste of everything and satisfying the beast in everyone that demands louder, faster, and noisier things coming from your stereo.
The album kicks off with "Web", which had been released as a single months before the album release. Already the listener is getting a good idea that they are in for a punishing album. It’s definitely an Oh Sees formula song; lots of “Whoos” and noisy guitar solos, giving the listener a bit of nostalgia for albums like Carrion Crawler/The Dream.
Coming into the second track we have "Withered Hand" which was released on Pitchfork with a few selected other songs a few weeks before the album. In a perfect world they might have opened the LP with this, then with "Web" following right after, but I say this only because I want to hear this song immediately when I hit play on the album. The track begins with a slow, driving bassline with tons of unearthly atmosphere, building until it violently erupts, quadrupling the tempo and exploding into chaotic guitar riffs. I personally was so excited to first hear this, hoping that one day I would be able to set my alarm music as this so I could wake up every day of my life to this particular song.
With the third song, they move us from the danger zone to a comfortable piece of music called "Poor Queen". You start to relax and let your guard down as well you should because the next three tracks are pure unadulterated fun and energy. "Turned Out Light" has an exceptionally catchy main riff that makes one desire to be in a slam pit with a group of nuns. A strange and specific feeling, definitely, but you will know exactly what I mean when you listen.
After we are exhausted from punching the walls in your apartment for the first five tracks, the group blesses us with a slow, ominous hate ballad titled "Sticky Hulks". When performed live, the guitarist uses a small vintage keyboard between verses playing a very King Crimson influenced solo that haunts the listener. One thing that I appreciate most about Thee Oh Sees is their ability to create such a vacuous atmosphere with such a small amount of musicians. You’ll most likely repeat "Sticky Hulks" multiple times before moving on because it’s just that incredible.
"Holy Smoke" is next and the listener is immediately shifting into a strange world full of furry walls and curious uncles. If you’re listening to the album on a computer, this is when you check to make sure that it’s still the same band. Honestly, you will be very confused at first but I assure you it is Thee Oh Sees. The track is entirely instrumental, calming you while also massaging your brain with strange chords linking charming melodies with strange dissonance. The band clearly were doing a lot of experimentation in the studio for this particular LP and were rewarded with sonic perfection on every moment especially this particular track.
"Rogue Planet" is, as of now, my favorite song on the album. At this moment you realize there is only one song left on the LP and so far there has been no low point in terms of substance. I had seen the track listing weeks before hearing the album. Have you ever seen a track with a great name and you say to yourself “I hope it lives up to how badass the title is”? Well rest assured that it not only manages to not disappoint, but it will surpass even the greatest of expectations. Seeing them in Phoenix as they toured the album I remember this track being the high point of the show for me. I had to look through all the old albums trying to find this track and of course now I know it’s off of this album. It’ll make you want to skate and later break your board over your own head in a surge of blissful adrenaline. If you’re looking for a new track for your garage rock playlist, this comes highly recommended.
The album closes with "Palace Doctor" which is simply a great track taking down the tempo from "Rogue Planet". It’s a great way to close out and what’s really incredible is how it manages to work dynamically not only listening to the album from end to end but also it works if you were to leave the album on repeat like I have and will very likely continue to do.
Great album structure is one of the most important things to consider when trying to market your new release in an age where many are listening to artists one radio hit at a time. It keeps records selling and encourages the listener to listen to the entire body of work instead of just making playlists. A band like this might meticulously arrange the album until their emotional breaking point but it’s a noble sacrifice to ensure that the listener is getting the best experience possible, and I respect that as should you.
Nine songs, all great and all seeming to only get better as you push through the album. Normal album structure has almost always been to cram your five best songs at the beginning and the rest are classified as B-sides, but this album seems to age like a fine wine. Am I disappointed that there are so few songs? Yes; it ends too quickly, but keeping in mind that there are zero bad songs on this album I remain forever grateful. My top three picks from this album would be "Rogue Planet" at number one, "Withered Hand" at number two, and "Sticky Hulks" coming in at number three with honorable mention to "Turner Out Light". This is a great dynamic album and in my opinion a great bounce back from 2014’s Drop, which was not necessarily bad, but didn’t deliver like this album did. This will pair nicely with Metz’ new release Metz II, which came out a week or so before this did. Go out and buy this album and then buy Metz II, and make sure to schedule your contractor now because every room of your house will have fist shaped holes and that’s a real thing.