Thee Oh Sees Castlemania Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An annoying offering which fails to further the Californians’ garage-rock cause.

Alex Deller 2011

While the "soundtrack to your summer" tag is dropped with gay abandon umpteen times a year, this here is the real deal. Nope, that doesn’t mean the daft grins and guaranteed sunshine of a petrol station Beach Boys best-of; rather, the will-it-rain-or-will-it-shine mediocrity and nerve-jangling frustrations of any given British summertime.

Gone, for the most part, are the scrappy garage stomps and snot-streaked distorto yowlings that initially placed Thee Oh Sees gleefully alongside Black Lips and The Strange Boys; all that joyous gusto stripped well back for the sake of fey acoustic plunks and clean vocals as they reference The Creation and The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band while dabbling with the mind-expanding sickliness of the third Pebbles compilation.

If you can be persuaded to root around for long enough you might occasionally bump into the odd moment that made Thee Oh Sees’ brilliant Help album of 2009, or 2010’s lopsided Warm Slime, so enjoyable – slapdash songwriting, slovenly hooks and prurient flights of fancy. But while these helped lend earlier releases a shaggy-headed sense of abandon, here they tend to cloy and fluster, leaving you irritable and overheated, struggling beneath the folds of an immensely heavy tie-dyed blanket.

Even staring objectively into the DayGlo vortex of its nursery rhyme simplicity and cockeyed sense of play, the bitter truth is that much of Castlemania is simply annoying. True, the Seeds-y pops and clock chimes of Coprophagist or the easy, breezy Pleasure Blimps work well enough in isolation, but when they’re slotted in amongst another 35 minutes’ worth of hateful nasal whimsy (Stinking Cloud), meaningless scrabbling (Corrupted Coffin) and rank irritation (almost everything else) they make for such a needling, shoulder-knotting experience that it’s hard not to want to punch everyone involved in the throat before casually setting fire to everything they own.

The reasons for all of this are anyone’s guess – a simple misstep; the inevitable tipping point where quantity outweighs quality; or perhaps some sort of strange malicious wish on the part of the band to goad their listeners into unquestioning emperor’s-new-clothes acceptance. Whatever the rationale, Castlemania falls hard on its porcelain-white tuchus and laughs hysterically at the very fact that it can’t get up again. But while the band are having a fine old time of it the rest of us are here, clucking our tongues, rolling our eyes and smug in the knowledge that when tomorrow comes these silly young men will be looking very sheepish indeed.

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