I'm just getting back from a pilgrimage to see my favorite band of all time play back to back nights at Warsaw in Brooklyn (where pierogies meet punk). I realized it's about time I write a retrospective of what John Dwyer has done with this project over the past 10 years and highlight the most necessary releases for your listening pleasure.
Thee Oh Sees discography is extensive, confusing, and inconsistent, but ultimately, very rewarding. Here's what I know about my favorite releases, chronologically. This is obviously super long, but I basically want to write a biography on this band. I'm sorry and you're welcome.
2003-2005 OCS - 1, 2, 3, 4
John Dwyer started recording as OCS concurrently with Coachwhips. There's actually some interesting stuff here but I'm not including it because this is way too overwhelming anyway, probably. It was quiet, folky, and lightly psychedelic. There are four albums, (titled 1, 2, 3, and 4) credited to OCS. OCS may have stood for Orange County Sound or Orinoka Crash Suite throughout this period.
2006 The Ohsees - Cool Death of Island Raiders
Somewhere along the way, the name got changed to The Ohsees and Jon started performing with a band who would actually last for quite a while (Brigid Dawson sings backing vocals on this release). This release is spacey, folky, drone-y, and pretty fun to listen to. I especially like Gilded Cunt.
2007 The Oh Sees - Sucks Blood
The first Oh Sees release with electric guitar! Petey Dammit joined the band around this time and you can hear him playing guitar on this album (listen for what sounds like a bass). This release splits the difference between the relaxed folkiness of the first album and the garage psych mania that is shortly to follow. It sounds sort of like they wrote these songs together. Check out It Killed Mom to get the idea.
2008 Thee Oh Sees - Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion
This is a live release and kind of makes the earlier releases less important to me. It's all the best songs from the last two, a bunch of original songs, and Block of Ice and Ghost in the Trees played acoustic. This technically came out after Master's Bedroom but it has a lot more in common with everything else. The title track is one of the originals on the album and is a particularly nice song with a nice use of saw.
2008 Thee Oh Sees - The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In
Definitely my favorite Oh Sees record, but maybe my favorite record in general. Dwyer took the same songwriting from the early albums but made it into crunchy, propulsive garage psych for the first time. Visit Colonel > Grease 2, which in their early live sets was sometimes Grease > Grease 2, is where I start really caring about this whole John Dwyer thing. Also, The Coconut, Poison Finger, Ghost in the Trees... and the whole thing. This whole album is perfect for a summer day.
2009 Thee Oh Sees - Help
This is another really important Thee Oh Sees release of how unrelenting it is. Enemy Destruct and Ruby Go Home define the kind of garage stomp and freaky guitar licks that would later become the "Punk Can" sound that's keeping the band relevant in 2015. Destroyed Fortress Reappears is another important song because of how hypnotic and heavy it is compared to their earlier work. Also note that Peanut Butter Oven has the first use of a string arrangement. I wish people knew this album better because it really slays all the whole way through.
2009 Thee Oh Sees - Singles, Vol. 1
The singles compilations aren't super consistent but this is probably the most consistent. Carol Ann and Bloody Water are vintage Help-era tracks (the former actually being a Yikes track), The Freak was Clean is kinda shoegazey, Kids in Cars is weird and psychedelic, and the last few tracks are old and relaxed.
2009 Thee Oh Sees (but really just John) - Dog Poison
This mini-album is mostly just John goofing around. It's sort of notable for the first recording of Dead Energy, but it pales in comparison to the later recording anyways.
2010 Thee Oh Sees - Warm Slime
Here, the A side is their longest and biggest jam and while it starts well, it doesn't really go anywhere. On the B side I Was Denied rips off a traditional American melody to great effect and Castiatic Tackle is their best punk song. This is the least best full band album but it's still kinda essential.
2011 Thee Oh Sees - Singles, Vol. 2
This is actually pretty cool. Tidal Wave might be their most famous song, and it is quite good. Friends Defined and Schwag Rifles are cool, theContraption demo is kinda fun and the cover of Ty Segall's The Drag is kinda cute and REALLY faithful to the original.
2011 Thee Oh Sees (but really just John) - Castlemania
The only release I feel kind of crazy for liking. John mostly does his Captain Beefheart impression and writes really, really weird songs mostly acoustically. Then near the end, a few cover songs, I Won't Hurt You and If I stay Too Long, are actually just wonderful. Check in for a couple awesome full band versions of these songs on the live split, though.
2011 Thee Oh Sees / Total Control Split
Four live versions of previous tracks and definitely their best EP! This shows the time that they were converting to an amazing live band. This has a fairly consice and shred-heavy version of Dead Energy that captures the energy of the live favorite, full band recordings of AA Warm Breeze and Corrupt Coffin that render the originals obsolete, and Blood in Your Ear, which is just amazing. Perfect all the way through their side.
2011 Thee Oh Sees - Carrion Crawler / The Dream
This is where the kraut-punk idea really gelled, and boy did it ever. This was my album of the year in 2011 and it's one of the best garage albums of all time. This helped define their Kraut set, from 2011-2012, was all the epic tracks from CC/TD (Carrion Crawler, The Dream, Contraption/Soul Desert, Robber Barons), Block of Ice that jammed into No Spell, Dead Energy and Tidal Wave (as always), often I Was Denied and/or Destroyed Fortress Reappears and/or Meat Step Lively, and only Lupine Dominus from Putrifiers II (which, for the record, kicked SO MUCH ASS). I listened to a lot of bootlegs from 2011-2012, it was my full-on Oh Sees obsession phase. This album was basically the reason for the obsession.
2012 Thee Oh Sees (but really just John) - Putrifiers II
Putrifiers, if you can stand to listen to it, is actually the first version of "Ghost in the Trees" back when Yikes was John's rock outlet in the mid-2000s (post Coachwhips). Putrifiers II is John messing around with a bunch of different ideas. Wax Face, Flood's New Light, and Lupine Dominus are all completely necessary. So Nice has an interesting arrangement, the title track is pretty cool, and basically this is John at his best while he's messing around.
2013 Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffin
Floating Coffin is the first and last release of its kind (sort of). This was written and put together while touring with the Kraut set that I described above and is played in the same way that they started playing all the songs in this set: fast. Anyways, this album was written straight from the energy that they brought with that set, but it's tighter, heavier, and almost as awesome as CC/TD. Definitely check out I Come from the Mountain, Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster, and Tunnel Time, but also everything else.
2013 Thee Oh Sees - Moon Sick EP
This is the last release that the original lineup produced together. Actually, plus Lars Finberg from the Intelligence, who does vocals on Sewer Fire, which is an awesome song. He was a full member of the band for a hot minute, and these songs were the result of the burnout phase of Thee Oh Seesbefore their hiatus in 2013. Humans Be Swayed is a killer song that I wish got more airtime, and you can ignore the last song entirely.
2013 Thee Oh Sees (but really just John) - Singles Collection Volume 3
There's actually a ton of good songs on this, and the live tracks at the end will help you understand what the Kraut set sounded like from 2011-2012. I love love love Wait Let's Go, Always Flying, and Devil Again. The covers are fun too, especially Burning Spear. All of these songs are just-John but just like Putrifiers, he was on a roll at the time.
2014 Thee Oh Sees (but really just John) - Drop
How does a band on hiatus put out an album? Well, John never goes on hiatus. Drop never really comes together, but it's certainly worth listening toPenetrating Eye, Encrypted Bounce (which destroys in their live set right now), and Drop.
2015 Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated at Last
This is my third favorite overall behind Master's Bedroom And CC/TD. It's the first of the "New Thee Oh Sees" albums with the new lineup, and I hope there are many more. It sounds like John wrote this by himself with pretty good instructions for how he'd like it to be played, and these instructions were carried out pretty precisely by the band. It picks up where Floating Coffin left off and improves upon many of the ideas from that album with really tight musicianship and production all the way through. Polished Oh Sees is apparently amazing Oh Sees. Specifically, Web, Withered Hand, and Rogue Planet slay just like you want them to, Turned Out Light is going to get stuck in your head, Lupine Ossuary is the continued saga of No Spell, and I'm personally a believer in Sticky Hulks as the best heavy-psych burner in their entire catalogue.
- bold denotes must-listens, and must listen songs within the album
- italics denotes releases that John essentially writes and performs alone