Announcing a hiatus in 2013, the indie world cried at the loss of prolific San Francisco garage-rockers Thee Oh Sees. Audience tears turned to confusion when the band returned just a few months later with the relatively laid back sunshine pop of “Drop.” In 2015, Thee Oh Sees have returned in full force with the groovy, atmospheric and hard hitting “Mutilator Defeated At Last,” bringing with it a new rhythm section and long time contributor Brigid Dawson on keys/background vocals, who was absent from their last record.
Album opener “Web” weaves a loping, bassy, psychedelic groove that builds a frenetic energy with rolling drums, sinister, barely discernible vocals and an enthusiastic “Woo!” preceding every guitar freak out. “Withered Hand” follows with a dark, ambient soundscape reminiscent of Wire’s “Chairs Missing” before breaking into a head banging, fuzzed out pop-punk song with a shrieking guitar solo that strikes the perfect balance between noise and melody.
After a couple of enjoyably poppy classic rock numbers, we find “Lupine Ossuary” which acts as a musical sequel to fan favorite “Lupine Dominus” off of 2012’s “Purifiers II” before we hit the album’s moody centerpiece “Sticky Hulks.” Sounding like a cross between Sonic Youth and earlier Pink Floyd, “Sticky Hulks” is a highly focused 7 minute psychedelic journey filled with pulsing bass lines, meandering keyboards, reverberated vocals and fuzzy, echoing guitar stabs.
“Holy Smoke” is the album’s only instrumental track, made up of gently picked acoustic guitars, ominous synths and a steady krautrock beat, leading into the frantic punk of “Rogue Planet.” The album closes with “Palace Doctor” which boasts a smooth groove reminiscent of The Doors, which is fitting as John Dwyer (mastermind behind the band) has recently relocated to Los Angeles. The creepy feel and gentle “oohs” wrap up the record nicely, capturing the essence of the album without repeating itself.
Though only 9 songs and ending just shy of the 35 minute mark, “Mutilator…” packs a hefty punch, comfortably cramming all the reasons we love the band along with a few new sounds. It never strays too far from the vibe the Thee Oh Sees have developed, but the fresh twists and new lineup make for an exciting listen that never gets boring. While the record maintains a darker, foreboding tone, it doesn’t skimp on sweet grooves, guitar solos or moments of ecstasy. Nothing on “Mutilator…” is particularly revolutionary, but that’s never been the band’s priority. It’s a fun and seductive record, wholly devoid of filler with the nine songs standing confidently on their own and working even better together, making repeat plays a pleasure.