From its ludicrous track names to its filter-free kitchen sink instrumentation, Smote Reverser is an hour-long marathon of pretentiousness and tedium. “Sentient Oona”, the lead track, sets the scene with surgical precision: the track lasts two minutes longer than it needs to, and it’s bogged down by a series of boring loops and a solo that feels like a single-take act of brainlessness. The track ends with a comical crash of cymbals that bookends the splurge like a fart in a cathedral — most of the album’s tracks suffer similar flaws.
Oh Sees here follow a brand of experimentation that has no room for cynicism; hammer at your instruments for five minutes and someone’s bound to enjoy the result, regardless of how indulgent that result may be. The 12-minute long behemoth “Anthemic Aggressor” compounds the dullness with nought but a five-note bassline repeating ad nauseam as its leading hook. Zoning out initially feels like a breakthrough, and perhaps Smote Reverser isn’t meant to be viewed with a magnifying glass. The composition, however, doesn’t lend itself to this mode of engagement — the deluge morphs and shifts as if to demand your attention, but it’s too weightless to earn investment.
It isn’t wholly without merit: “Abysmal Urn” and “Enrique El Cobrador” strike success in Oh Sees’ experimental method, adding an edge that’s sorely lacking elsewhere. The latter’s vocals, while adding a welcome focal point, are nonetheless reminiscent of the vocals across the album in their stilted, uninspiring, and pretentious delivery. An hour of this smug songwriting was certainly more than I needed.5 10
Favourite tracks // Abysmal Urn
Enrique El Cobrador
Smote Reverser sounds like an album by a band who release an album or two a year. It’s tight, it’s energetic, and there’s no obvious filter to what goes on. As John Dwyer himself puts it, ‘the record doesn’t have like a continuum.’ It does have character, though, and it’s tidily mixed. Pieced together from a series of improvisations, Smote Reverser oscillates between garage rock and brainy psychedelia. There’s a lot of movement. If you can tap into Oh Sees’ frequency there’s no reason why this can’t be a lovely hour in the haze. The record needs that buy-in, though. Without it I find it hard to escape the feeling the band are getting a lot more out of all this than I am.
Indirection is probably Smote Reverser’s biggest sin. It’s a solid hour of tangentially related material. “C” is a smooth and groovy rock track — probably the standout — but there’s no time to revel in where it takes you. “Overthrown” clatters right in and doesn’t do the album any favours, even though as a standalone track it’s fine. The final product misses that order, that discipline. “Last Peace” borders on Doorsy, and even that could stand to be half as long. There’s no shortage of tight, textured psychedelic jams, but it seldom feels like the tracks are pulling in the same direction. Or any direction at all.6 10
Favourite tracks // C
I’ve had a week of surprises with Oh Sees’ latest release. To the uninitiated, its album cover might have me believe I was in for an hour of rancid death metal, while the band’s name would suggest something at the opposite end of the rock spectrum. What Smote Reverser delivers instead is a variety of raucous rock with differing degrees of the psychedelia you might expect from the band.
The album opens strong and noisily, particularly with “Enrique El Cobrador” and “Overthrown”, the former sitting into a chugging groove as guitars and organs wail and stab across its four-minutes, while the latter makes for a short, sharp, sprint of noisiness that I can get behind. The likes of “C“, “Last Peace” and “Moon Bog” feel far closer to the 60s rock one might expect when psychedelia is concerned, with solos that draw out each note and ride the entrancing groove underneath. It’s “Anthemic Aggressor” that will either make it or break it for a listener. At twelve minutes, it’s bound to have the marmite effect, and for me, it’s just a bit too loose to keep my attention. The groove is driving and persistent, and by the fourth minute, you can tell you’re deep in a jam session. It’s not a turn off as much as it is a turning point, and from here on, “Abysmal Urn” aside, I get a little weary of the looser, jam session nature the album leans into for the remainder of the track list.
The closer comes as a welcome relief, working its way up to a rapturous, stonking high point to round off the album, but I wouldn’t be upset if the overall length were twenty minutes shorter. This area of the genre is not one I’d usually enjoy so much, but despite my issues with the latter half, Smote Reverser has given me enough reason to return to it and nothing incessant or domineering enough for me to turn it off once I’ve started listening. Indulgent it indeed may be, but it’s an indulgence that has charmed me quite successfully.8 10
Favourite tracks // Overthrown