Oh Sees Credit: John Dwyer

It’s hard to keep up with the prolificacy of John Dwyer, who devotes most of his creative energy to his long-running and often flawless Oh Sees. While I was in the process of digesting the lacerating riffs and pummeling double-drummer grooves on August’s Orc for a preview of their September Chicago performance, they announced their second album of the year. Released in November, Memory of a Cut Off Head (Castle Face) features Dwyer collaborating with former band member Brigid Dawson (who remained in the Bay Area when he took his act to Los Angeles a few years ago), and is something of an outlier in the band’s voluminous catalog. Though it cleaves to the sort of down-and-dirty directness the band delivers at its most visceral, it’s been hyped as a baroque, orchestral pop effort. Heather Lockie, who crafted lovely string arrangements for the recent solo album by Wand’s Cory Hanson, does the same here, adding dancing, delicate counterpoint, and Mikal Cronin plays layers of postminimal saxophone on the spooky instrumental “The Baron Sleeps and Dreams.” Focus, however, is on the whispery vocal interplay of Dwyer and Dawson and trippy mellotron arpeggios rather than the band’s characteristic wigged-out guitar. It’s a charming record that has an appealing psych-folk veneer that borders on glam—“The Chopping Block” does little to hide its debt to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”—but by the end of its ten songs it comes off as a single-note affair; while both singers bring hooky melodic strengths to the band at its most aggressive, their vocal limitations are highlighted in this setting. I admire Oh Sees’ desire to shake things up and try something different, but I’m glad Memory of a Cut Off Head was a one-off. These shows include an outdoor performance as part of the Empty Bottle’s annual outdoor winter block party, Music Frozen Dancing.   v