Osees are a hardcore band now, but if history is any indication, they probably won’t be for very long. Every album from John Dwyer’s astonishingly prolific project—formerly known as OCS, Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, and on and on—has played like a pull of a slot machine, a randomized jumble of garage, psych-pop, and krautrock, cut with varying degrees of experimentation. But the project’s 26th album, A Foul Form, is a departure even for a group that feeds on departures, a furious homage to the scummiest, crustiest hardcore of the early 1980s. It’s the first Osees record in a while that even this band’s feverishly devoted fan base probably couldn’t see coming.
Recorded in Dwyer’s basement on what must have been the shittiest equipment he could muster, A Foul Form is only 22 minutes, one of which is a closing cover of “Sacrifice” by British anarcho-punk pioneers Rudimentary Peni. The mix is bare yet inventively sadistic. With their cassette-tape fidelity, these tracks are nearly all rumble, but that low end is thorned with a protective layer of shrill feedback and harsh static pops that stab at anyone who succumbs to the temptation to turn up the volume. It’s as if the intrinsic causticness of hardcore wasn’t enough. They had to booby trap it.
A Foul Form is an angry record, though like the classic hardcore it emulates, it can be difficult to pinpoint where the genuine fury ends and the self-aware histrionics begin. For much of the album, Dwyer seethes about greed and society’s callous disregard for human life. On “Perm Act,” he blasts violent cops “eating in their car while you’re gasping in the dirt.” On “Frock Block,” he targets the church-sanctioned bigotry of pearl-clutching priests: “Being yourself is simply not a crime/You won’t burn in hell for all time.”
It’s all fittingly scathing, but there’s whimsy under the surface, especially in Dwyer’s berserk vocal performances. His taunting, sneering voice cycles through loose impressions of iconic punk singers—Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Ian MacKaye, Johnny Rotten—without ever assuming a final form. It’s like he’s method acting every punk band he grew up listening to all at once. Sometimes he adopts a British accent just to drop it after a few words.
Some levity, too, surfaces from the inevitable tension between the band’s attempts at pure genre exercise and their quirkier tendencies poking at the margins of these recordings. Scribby riffs and skronky keyboards prod at “Fucking Kill Me” and “Too Late For Suicide,” as if trying to break through the simple song structures and draw out the longer, weirder dirges in the five-piece lineup’s DNA. But the vigilant nature of A Foul Form never quite allows them to get there. Even if Osees are just moonlighting, they’ve committed completely to the act.
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