Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania

written by: June 8, 2011
Release Date: May 17, 2011


As something of an elder statesman in the growingly popular movement of digital-bedroom pop aesthetics, John Dwyer has become nothing less than prolific in his 15-odd years as the mastermind behind Thee Oh Sees, a poppy garage/punk project that can’t seem to go two weeks without releasing another album.

The latest go ‘round for Dwyer is Castlemania, an easily listenable and perfectly enjoyable album that nonetheless carries a hindering sense of familiarity. This problem likely lies in Dwyer’s own idiosyncratic preoccupations.

Though the music may not be groundbreaking or advanced in any aspect, there’s no denying that it’s thoughtfully crafted and almost always infused with a sense of caprice. It’s nice to picture Dwyer sitting in a basement somewhere, surrounded by analog recording equipment and making dopey but enjoyable tunes.

And for all intents and purposes, it’s precisely what he’s done. Dwyer has the reputation of being a marathon man, playing show after show in a myriad of bands and projects. Not only has Thee Oh Sees experienced its own sense of evolution—having operated under previous monikers of The Oh Sees, OCS, Orange County Sound and Orinoka Crash Suite—but Dwyer continues to start and join other bands seemingly at whimsy. In total, he’s been a member of at least eight different bands, including the noise-rock outfit Coachwhips.

Suffice it to say, the guy’s as absorbent as a sponge. Thee Oh Sees is at its best when it reflects Dwyer’s permeable attitude toward music.

Enter Castlemania, which manages to blend the band’s most infectious moments with its most perplexing. Falling in step with 2010’s Warm Slime, the album boasts a psych-folk vibe, fitted with cheeky melodicism and a penchant for playfulness. Songs like “AA Warm Breeze” and “I Need Seed” sound like the kind of songs Raffi might write if he took LSD.

And while this is all well and good, these aren’t the kind of songs that earn repeat listens. Once or twice, they’re great. Soon, they border on novelty. “Spider Cider,” for example, has no redeeming qualities aside from its silly title.

The album takes a turn for the worse when things get overly indulgent. “The Horse was Lost” is a needless instrumental track that concludes with a full minute of silence (for whatever reason).

What Castlemania seems to be striving for is a sense of structure. The album has a haphazard flow, with each track seemingly bouncing into the other with a reckless sense of abandon. This punk rock ethos might appeal to Dwyer’s affinity for all things catawampus, but for the listener, such a lack of cohesion borders on laborious.

It’s a good thing he’s in to having fun. If he wasn’t, Castlemania would be borderline unlistenable. As it stands, it’s a decent collection of songs from one of pop’s more whimsical songsmiths. We’ll see what else he’s got in another three months or so.

Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania Tracklist:

  1. “I Need Seed”
  2. “Corprophagist (A Bath Perhaps)”
  3. “Stinking Cloud”
  4. “Corrupted Coffin”
  5. “Pleasure Blimps”
  6. “A Wall, A Century 2”
  7. “Spider Cider”
  8. “The Whipping Continues”
  9. “Blood On the Deck”
  10. “Castlemania”
  11. “AA Warm Breeze”
  12. “Idea for Rubber Dog”
  13. “The Horse Was Lost”
  14. “I Won’t Hurt You”
  15. “If I Stay Too Long”
  16. “What Are We Craving?”