Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Local Hero, Thee Oh Sees

From Timid To Timbuktu
* * * * 1/2

Local Hero’s debut release, last year’s excellent The Aldgate EP, succeeded by pushing reality to the periphery but never eliminating it entirely in favor of the globe-trotting reveries at the music’s front and center.  From Timid To Timbuktu, the Berkeley quartet's full-length, reverses this paradigm, keeping its feet on the ground even as the distinctions between the mundane and the fantastical blur together.  Alex MacKay’s field of vision on Timbuktu is mainly limited to what’s going on in front of him (and behind his back), and the locales are far more familiar than the Barcelonas and Champs-Elysees of The Aldgate--a theater, a cold rooftop, a few disparate U.S. states, Piedmont, the metropolitan sprawl.  But MacKay’s songwriting is more expansive than ever and is what ultimately makes Timbuktu stand out as the better of the band’s two releases so far.  Whether he’s penning Dan Bejar-worthy couplets (“Black & White,” “Lady Wisconsin”) or ruminating on the human condition (“Piedmont Girls,” “Once More With Feeling,” MacKay imbues everyday life with almost theatrical whimsy, finding depth in the mundanity of his surroundings by filtering it through an artist’s eye.  If The Aldgate felt like a daydream, Timbuktu feels like the inspired moments of consciousness that feed and nurture our fantasies.

Putrifiers II
* * *

It’s been nearly a year since Thee Oh Sees released Carrion Crawler/The Dream, a hiatus of Vashti Bunyan proportions by the standards of a band who once released so many records that finding an entry point was near impossible.  Since then, the band’s reputation has evolved from yet another stereotypically prolific San Francisco garage-rock band to one of the most formidable rock n’ roll bands in America, both live and in the studio.  It’s a shame that Putrifiers II, the follow-up to Carrion Crawler, only intermittently justifies that reputation.  The logic behind this album is understandable--it’s Thee Oh Sees’ most accessible album to date, bordering on straight poppy on songs like “Flood’s New Light” and “Goodbye Baby,” and will likely be the most-recommended Thee Oh Sees album if only for its relative ease on the ears.  But these songs sound uncharacteristically restrained, with bandleader John Dwyer sounding bored through most of it and the band plodding away joylessly.  Gone is the jam-session spontaneity that made Carrion Crawler such a blast, but the band counter-intuitively sounds less tight, almost as if they’re playing the music out of obligation rather than passion.  However, there are enough good songs to mostly redeem this album, including the plodding title track and the warped string ballad “Wicked Park.”

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