[sic] Magazine

OCS – Memory Of A Cut Off Head

Nope, Memory Of A Cut Off Head is not Ocean Colour Scene’s first studio album since 2013; it’s actually Thee Oh Sees’ (or Oh Sees’, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week) 20th LP in as many years – coincidentally too the Castle Face label’s 100th release. Multiple records a year is expected these days of John Dwyer. We’ll even tolerate him changing band names a couple of times in the same summer, but multiple sounds over the same period is pushing it a bit even by his standards! Released just a few months back, Orc, as Oh Sees, was another great tumble of dual drum-fired garage-psych – business as recently usual then – but Memory Of A Cut Off Head, as OCS (a title last used by Dwyer in 2008), is an altogether different proposition. Back in the saddle, see, comes Brigid Dawson and with her some of the band’s earliest psych-folk fixations. “Soft and strange” as the one-sheet so precisely summarises, it thus contains, amongst others, Heather Lockie’s bucolic string parts, Mikal Cronin’s horns and – most otherworldly of all – the return of Patrick Mullins’ magical musical saw.

Predictably it doesn’t all go to plan and if Dwyer and Dawson had a script when laying down the LP they certainly didn’t tell any of the album’s other players! Memory Of A Cut Off Head is consequently all over the map (oh, and pedantry alert, please Mr. Dwyer, let’s punctuate your album titles properly in future – phrasal verbs need no hyphen, but when used as a compound noun delivering a single concept these nifty little trait d’unions really do make a difference! Fellow pedants, we now thoroughly expect fault to be found within our own writing, of course).

Back to the album, all is immediately not as it seems on the title-track, pastoral music with a digital skitter in its DNA, almost latter-day Radiohead-esque in its arrangements, but with blissful acoustic patterning picked out on top of the gently rocking cradle. A stop-start rhythm purposefully jars with soothing violin, Dwyer’s creaking vocal too rippling the surface of this outdoorsy slice of freak-folk. Moving through the suite we then encounter creeping whispers, light kraut grooves and periods of kosmiche ambience. An old-world organ even gives “The Remote Viewer” a medieval quality; guitars gone entirely it trips along on percussion, Dwyer’s trembling troubadour impression and a stately swoop of strings alone.

Though the guitars do subsequently return to lush surroundings here and barely-there ballads there, it really has been a long time since we’ve heard Dwyer and Dawson sounding this far off the established path. And, with a side B heavily weighted towards Dawson’s vocals, a thought occurs that maybe it’s her doing the leading. Her sighing coo pulls first at the heart strings on “The Fool”, a chilly dose of melancholy synth and strings while her hushed, near-spoken part illuminates impressive experiment “Time Turner”, a hypnotic chatter of instrumentation driven forward by regular string-drones. In the middle of all this, Dwyer returns for LP highlight “The Chopping Block”, which is once again different, this time a Ziggy Stardust-era acoustic demo fleshed out with melody to the point of dreamy space-opera. Dawson latterly closes out with a jaunty blast of psych-pop bedding, throwaway stuff in a world of commercialism perhaps, comic relief in the face of tragedy for sure. Memory Of A Cut Off Head might just be the most perceptive of the band’s albums yet.

Best track: “The Chopping Block”

~Memory Of A Cut Off Head is released November 17th 2017 via Castle Face.~