It’s hard to imagine where John Dwyer finds the time to do all that he does, musically speaking. Just three months ago he released Orc under the name Oh Sees on his own label Castleface Records after releasing the previous dozen albums between 2008 and 2016 under the name Thee Oh Sees. Now he’s at it again under the original moniker of OCS while reconnecting with his longtime friend and collaborator Brigid Dawson. With Dawson’s breathy and haunting vocals out front leading the way, Dwyer trades in his blistering electric guitar riffs for an acoustic, some keys, and most notably, lush orchestrations of strings including violin, cello, and even harpsichord.
The opening song and namesake of the album, Memory Of A Cut Off Head, finds Dwyer and Dawson delivering the lyrics together with a cadence and rhythm all their own over a marching snare, a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, and a rich multilayered violin section. With this opening track Dwyer declares that this is no Oh Sees or Thee Oh Sees record and signals a clear change of direction sonically, but not necessarily lyrically. Dawson’s voice falls somewhere between the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast and psych-folk icon Linda Perhacs, while remaining distinctly her own. Dwyer meanwhile has stepped up his orchestration on the album and shares sonic company with British folk troubadours like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and The Incredible String Band, but again keeps his hallmark devilish and dark sound all his own.
For example, “On and On Corridor” with its opening flute section sounds initially like a track from a Fairport Convention album before descending into the dark madness of a typical Oh Sees track. References are not stuck in the acid soaked 60’s however, as “The Chopping Block” sounds like the best David Bowie song you’ve never heard before. “Neighbor to None” sounds like a Neil Halstead or Mojave 3 song on peyote as it ebbs and flows between poles while the strings rise and fall at the perfect moments. And despite being an instrumental track, “The Baron Sleeps and Dreams” is among my favorite tracks on the album as it traverses musical periods, genres, and styles only to roll them all up together into a sonic spliff, yielding mind bending aural hallucinations.
For the Oh Sees fan looking to scramble their brain and pump their meth fueled fists in the air to the double drum madness of a typical release, Memory Of A Cut Off Head will spin you in a 180 degrees and have you subdued in a lovely 45 minute opioid driven fever dream. This album is special for another reason, as it marks the 20th Oh Sees related release and the 100th on Dwyer’s own Castle Face Records. Don’t write this record off, it’s truly brilliant.