In an era where artists release records on relaxed timescales, John Dwyer’s ceaseless will to write and record often pegs him and his band, reprising the OCS moniker for their 20th record in as many years, as the finest outliers of modern times.
And such dedication and desire to create brings with it a welcome throwback to when the likes of The Beatles and The Stones were churning out heaps of A-class material year-on-year like nobody’s business.
A neat link, of course, given that Dwyer’s past few outings, including this year’s ever-exhilarating Orc, pay brilliant homage to the freewheeling, drug-indebted heyday of experimental pysch-rock, a genre that came to define the tumultuous latter years of the ‘60s before itself morphing into prog rock at the turn of the decade.
OCS’ latest, Memory of a Cut Off Head, holds true to these ever-present psychedelic tendencies, but does such in much gentler fashion and knocks their recent all-guns-blazing formula on the head. This time around, the volume is dialled down and the reverb restrained, their usual brand of face-melting fretwork traded in for a folkier style.
But, fear not, this departure doesn’t mean that the band have gone soft in their old age. For the most part, a palpable sense of uncertainty permeates the lower-key proceedings, with the eerie strings of the title track proving a winsome kick down the rabbit hole into a place populated by unease and confusion. Here, what can initially be construed as whimsical often reveals a darkness within, with most everything vocalist Brigid Dawson whispers over these reduced musical backdrops sounding like an ethereal transmission from an Alice trapped in a multitude of wonderlands brimming with despair and apprehension. “The Remote Viewer”, both serene and carnivalesque, and “The Chopping Block”, which has delightful echoes of “Space Oddity”, best epitomise this kind of infectious melancholy.
As such, it’s hard to argue that OCS’ style is, once again, entirely original. These schizophrenic musings are hardly a far cry from the kooky Edwardian clatter of Barrett-era Pink Floyd or Love’s depiction of the harsh reality of the ‘60s dream on Forever Changes. What Memory of a Cut Off Head does do, however, is make a compelling case for Dwyer and co. to do away with the amplifiers and histrionics for good. An achievable feat? Hold that thought, album 21 is probably already in the can...