If there’s any continuity among of the phonetically-linked Oh Sees projects (at various times, OCS, The Ohsees), it’s woozy harmony. For years, it was John Dwyer’s bedroom project of sparse guitars, and he double-tracked harmonies with himself. But since his pawnshop-rock bastards Coachwhips ended, Oh Sees has filled out into a full band, and on Help, vocal duties are shared instead of doubled. Dwyer yelps in a falsetto similar to that of bandmate Brigid Dawson, and the effect isn’t so much girl/boy as elf/gremlin.
Their last record,The Masters Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, added the rhythmic force of Dwyer’s noisier side. On Help, bits of digital noise have worked their way into the sound, like the band is absorbing the textures of Dwyer’s more avant projects. Or maybe it’s just a crunchy topping to contrast with the creamy icing, because this is one cake of a record, as approachable as Dwyer has ever been. The Masters Bedroom... kept the vocals at the margins much of the time, like they were ghosts haunting a Small Faces record in Steve Marriott’s absence. Here, they’re foregrounded enough so you can sense the gender split, closer to a Mamas and Papas record.
Just because you can tell the difference between Dwyer and Dawson doesn’t mean you can distinguish what they’re actually saying. And the lyric sheet makes no sense. "Peanut Butter Oven" makes allusions to the Stones, but I can’t tell what they’re going on about. It’s certainly not peanut butter. The words get even more cryptic on the other tracks.
The songs are intricate despite the distortion, each reminiscent of mid-’60s chestnuts. Peel away the noise, the goofy lyrics, the weird voices that have come to define Oh Sees, and the songs could still stand on their own. So much of Dwyer’s music has succeeded because of bluster – a sudden gear-shift, a skidding guitar riff, a crack-up into the next song. Not here. The long tracks are crafted to climax rather than freak-out. They’ve clearly thunk this one out.