Thee Oh Sees
What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Thee Oh Sees? Probably their riot-sparking live show, right? Visions of a guitar-chewing, melody-maiming John Dwyer dancing in your head, rounded out by a wild-eyed wrecking crew that drives every last hook home like it’s a nail in the coffin of what you thought it meant to make 21st century rock ’n’ roll?
Yeah, that sounds about right. But it misses a more important point—how impossible Thee Oh Sees have been to pin down since Dwyer launched it in the late ‘90s as a solo break from such sorely missed underground bands as Pink and Brown and Coachwhips. (It’s now a quartet featuring keyboardist/singer Brigid Dawson, guitarist Petey Dammit, and drummer Mike Shoun, and will soon introduce a fifth member, multi-instrumentalist/singer Lars Finberg.) That goes for everything from the towering, 13-minute title track of their last LP (Warm Slime) to the mercurial moods of 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In.
Which brings us to Castlemania, the closest Thee Oh Sees have come to creating a scuffed-up, home-brewed symphony. In other words, there’s more to its 16 tracks than maniacal pop music (“Spider Cider,” “If I Stay Too Long”) or the kind of fang-baring, riff-raking garage rock (“Corrupted Coffin,” “A Wall, A Century 2”) that have made the San Francisco vets one of the underground scene’s few standbys. Slip on a decent pair of headphones to hear what we mean, as junk shop synths float through the ether alongside flutes, horns, mellotrons, and enough scorched bells and whistles to reward many a repeated listen. And then there’s Dwyer’s actual lyrics, which explore familiar themes of love, friends, drugs, and death with a skewed delivery that’s uniquely his.
“I guess there is a theme going on in this record,” admits Dwyer. “It’s shit I didn’t realize while making it—songs about bad things, packaged in a summery record about getting numb to life and its little pleasures as you take it for granted with age.”
Speaking of taking things for granted, Castlemania is the perfect entry point to spreading Thee Oh Sees gospel. It won’t be their only release in the coming months, either. Expect yet another full-length in the fall—“maybe our best yet,” according to Dwyer—and maybe a surprise or two on Dwyer’s own Castle Face imprint.
“I work a lot alone, and I hate work unless it’s mine,” says Dwyer, “so I am ‘living the life’ as my sis would say. It’s been a fruitful couple of years.”
Koory, Looloosh and Obaash met and formed the way of young rock bands since time immemorial: Hanging out at a local park as teenagers, among skaters and punk rockers, they bonded over their mutual tastes and began playing together. It’s a pretty standard, unremarkable story — except it took place in Iran, where, as Koory puts it, “you can find instruments, but the problem is that you’re probably going to get the shittiest ones, at triple the price,” and where the legality of pop music is, he says, similar to that of marijuana: You can buy the supplies, but don’t get caught fooling with the substance. In Brooklyn, where Yellow Dogs currently reside, forming a post-punk band with your friends is about as remarkable an activity as ordering Thai food. In Tehran, it was like more like a covert operation. And, lo and behold, the music they produced, the four-song EP Upper Class Complexity, crackles with more life, wit, tension and imagination than most of their peers. Maybe there’s something to be said for having to work for it.
Emil and Friends
Who is Emil & Friends? In 2008, the Wikipedia page of actor Emile
Hirsch informed us that his “band goes by the name of Emil and Friends
and is currently touring the United States.” Ever a beacon of factual
credibility, Wikipedia was innocently reflecting rumors started by one
rapscallion, Emil Hewitt, who was the realEmil behind the music, and
who had propagated the hoax in a shameless effort to get his music
And the story of Emil & Friends came into our world thusly–via a
fuzzy, falsified connection to a celebrity. Fortunately, the backstory
was accompanied by music bright with fresh basslines, colorful guitar
riffs and the whimsical charm of Emil’s vocals. Three years and many
buzzy HypeMachine remixes later, after moving to New York and refining
his sound, Emil has established himself as a riser in the NYC music
scene. The artist formerly known as Emile releases his full-length
debut Lo and Behold on Cantora Records.
Somewhere at the confluence of Emil’s chief inspirations–Queen, French
house music and Timbaland–blended together with his flair for musical
theater, he arrives at Lo and Behold, an eccentric musical journey he
self-classifies as weird Pop. Beginning to end, the album is
deliciously fantastical and schizophrenic, from the loungy banger
“C.U.P.I.D.” to the dreamy ballad “Prescriptions,” to the disco shaker
“Raincheck.” Emil’s debut is an exotic palette of musical moods, with
tracks that sizzle, others that stir, and others still that soothe.
So who is Emil & Friends? Both a man and a myth. A con-man and a
connoisseur. A mixologist and a remixer. A rising star and a star
stalker. Overall, and perhaps ironically so given Emil’s fabricated
identity, what shines most brightly on Emil’s debut is his own
personality. He approaches each song with a distinct persona, and when
held as a collection of songs, in Emil we find a highly relatable and
transparent voice–the product of a generation as fickle and fragmented
as the album itself.