Thee Oh Sees

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Castlemania Review

by Mark Deming

One of the hallmarks of Thee Oh Sees body of work is that every recording they've made sounds as if it was created while the musicians were under the influence of a variety of hallucinogens, so it tells listeners practically nothing to say that the group's seventh album, Castlemania, sounds pretty trippy. However, while the average Oh Sees album is a heavy exercise in psychedelic murk, Castlemania sounds surprisingly light and pop-oriented, if only by this band's standards. Tunes like "Pleasure Blimps," "I Need a Seed," and "Spider Cider" recall classic mid-'60s pop tunes in their slightly bent melodicism, at least before John Dwyer and his bandmates start draping layers of atonal soloing and Mellotron figures over them. Even the more full-blown psych numbers here, such as "Stinking Cloud," "A Wall, A Century 2," and the title track, are more approachable than most of Thee Oh Sees' previous work, if only because most of them are admirably concise, with only five of these 16 songs running over three minutes. In the liner notes, Dwyer mentions this album was the last recorded in the band's old work space, which he describes as "very near and dear to my heart," and Castlemania does sound like the product of several happily productive days in this band's life; this album sounds less sinister and more playful than the bulk of their previous output, and if a lot of this is still going to seem chaotic and off-putting to anyone not flying a similar freak flag, it's an easier way in to Thee Oh Sees' curious musical world than any of their albums to date. (The album also closes with three covers that confirm that these folks can conjure this sound even when less chemically adventurous people are writing the material.)

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