Thee Oh Sees
(In the Red)
The thing I love most about lo-fi is that it makes everything sound immediately close and intimate, like it's being played right down the hall from your apartment. Essentially, when you listen to this album, you are experiencing what it's like to have an apartment full of really weird, cool neighbors. That maybe or may not be an endorsement for some, but it's certainly the kind of thing I go in for.
Every track is a jam in one way or another. There's plenty of tambourine and glowing yellow sunshine guitars, from the rollicking tambourine-and-guitar party that is "A Wall, A Century 2" to "Stinking Cloud," whose psychedelic keyboards and flute-trilling conjure in this listener the image of a longhair in an innertube floating downriver on a sunny day, reading a book. And then there are tracks like "Corrupted Coffin" that seem like a soundtrack to a bank robbery. Woven through the album are the sounds of jangly dissonance, guitar strings being pulled in ways that seem cruel and unusual, and a herky-jerky sharpness.
Considering the harmonious coexistence of the unnerving and the mellifluous, Castlemania is quite well represented by the cover art: a smiling, oblivious toy being snatched at by a green, veiny monster claw. Just like that, little sonic weirdos creep into each song and you find yourself singing along to choruses that bouncily declare, "Oh no, there's blood on the deck."
The standouts on the album are the two that aren't in the least bit eerie: a cover of The Creation's "If I Stay Too Long" which offers a sweet explanation of the real reason why people overstay their welcome (it's because they love you/need you/want you/worry about you), and "A Horse Was Lost", which is wordless, desolate and genuinely heart-wrenching, despite my hatred of horses.
After listening to this album on repeat and developing a big-time fondness for it, I was a little sad that this band, famous for the energy of their live shows, put together a whole album that (as frontman John Dwyer admits) is probably too symphonic for them to play much of in concert. This reviewer suggests as a close second to a live show listening to this album on the sofa under a blanket with the media player's visualizer on, pretending you're on drugs. It's better than you'd expect.