Always in motion, the clattering candy-colored garage-rock crazy train that is Thee Oh Sees goes at multiple speeds. It’s not always breakneck, though that’s the prolific California group’s default pace during its legendary live shows. Throughout his band’s extensive discography—and especially on solo-oriented albums like 2011’s Castlemania and 2012’s Putrifiers II—multi-instrumentalist mastermind John Dwyer has further distinguished the brand with kooky sing-song melodies and frilly ’60s-pop flourishes unique to his artistry.
Thee Oh Sees’ last album, 2014’s Drop, was another relatively mellow, diverse offering—not a chug-fest like 2011’s Carrion Crawler/The Dream. It came after Dwyer moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles and announced a “well deserved break” that barely lasted long enough for him to release an album with his synth-pop side project Damaged Bug. So fans may have wondered whether the days of heavy-psych thunder and squirrelly rhythmic churning were over and done. It would appear not.
While not front-to-back pummeling, Mutilator Defeated At Last is fast and hard for much of its 33 minutes. It opens strong with “Web,” wherein drummer Nick Murray’s hyperactive motorik variation drives waves of distorted guitar and analog synth. A few songs later, the band makes like a demonic T. Rex on the beastly-bluesy “Turned Out Light.” The album achieves maximum heaviness with the kraut-punk blitz of “Lupine Ossuary” and thrashing “Rogue Planet”—songs that come on mean and don’t quit.
After some personnel changes, Dwyer keeps the focus on guitar and drums, even though longtime keyboardist Brigid Dawson, absent on Drop, returns to the lineup. For variety’s sake, it might’ve been nice if he’d included a couple more like “Sticky Hulks”—six minutes of dreamy organ noodling interrupted by squalls of fuzz—or the tense-yet-lovely acoustic instrumental “Holy Smoke.” On closer “Palace Doctor,” a loopy bass groove, a tranquil guitar figure, and whispered lines about “planting flowers after dark” create a sinister storybook vibe.
But this time, Dwyer’s not into playing Mad Hatter. He’s wearing his conductor cap and barreling express through the countryside, as if to reassure riders that despite his hiatus and extracurricular activities, Thee Oh Sees won’t rust on the rails.