2016 saw the tireless, multi-monikered California garage rock act Thee Oh Sees release two full-length LPs less than four months apart. When played sequentially, A Weird Exits’ lackadaisical, blissed-out final third rolls appropriately into the mostly mellow An Odd Entrances. This brings us to Orc, the band’s first studio album of 2017 and their first as Oh Sees. If An Odd Entrances was the sonic equivalent of a sophisticated, patient older sister, then Orc is her bratty, hyperactive younger brother.
Beginning with the speedy, spasmodic “The Static God”, Orc finds John Dwyer and company cruising through the album’s entire first half at a decent clip, shaking things up at every turn. Oh Sees dip into proggy Krautrock experimentalism on “Nite Expo”, bouncy face-melting heavy metal on “Animated Violence”, happy Middle-earth-themed indie rock that takes a weird, trippy turn into psychedelia on the epic eight-minute-plus “Keys to the Castle”, until finally concluding side A with the wonderfully Sabbath-like, danceable, demonic groove of “Jettison”.
Orc’s side B opener slows things down considerably. “Cadaver Dog” has the group delving back into the neo-psych they toyed with on “Keys to the Castle”. The back-to-back “Paranoise” and “Cooling Tower” put the band’s rhythm section front and center. Syncopated beats and bouncy bass lines feature amidst Moogy analog effects and pulsing “ah, ah, ah” male and female vocals. Where most of Dwyer’s lyrics up to this point are delivered in an unusually low, monstrously gravelly voice (perhaps inspiring the album’s title), the balladic “Drowned Beast” finds him singing uncharacteristically in a near-whisper over patient synths and lovely strings.
The playful “Raw Optics” is Orc’s pitch-perfect finale. Just under two minutes into the six-minute track, the guitars and odd effects drop back into the mix, making way for a phenomenal drum solo that builds from a hi-hat and hesitant snare to include confident cymbal crashes and tom rolls. This continues until the last minute and a half when the entire band falls in and brings Orc to its satisfyingly upbeat conclusion. Overall, Orc is a solid set that not only provides a healthy sampling of Oh Sees’ musical strengths throughout, but also works as a smartly conceptualized whole.