‘Protean Threat’ is Osees’ love letter to progressive rock

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

It may seem that psychedelic garage band Osees changes their name as frequently as they release albums, boasting a total of seven monikers prior to their current one and a massive 22 studio album discography since their conception in 1997. The band’s 23rd album, Protean Threat, was released Sept. 18 and is the first under its latest title, Osees, cementing this new iteration of the band as one that builds upon muddy psychedelic sounds with groovy synths.

“Scramble Suit II” greets listeners with a barrage of drums and synth progression that sounds as if it’s been emitted from a UFO. Frontman John Dwyer’s auto-tuned falsetto sneaks in, easily mistaken for another electronic accent to the song. This is not Osees’ first time using old-school keyboard beeps and effects to complement its music, but it does show the band’s progression toward a more dynamic yet refined sound.

There’s an uncannily fuzzy, distorted undertone marking each song on the record, establishing a sense of coherence among the tracks. Despite the title, “Dreary Nonsense” brings intelligible vocals back in the mix, with the meat of the song drawing from garage rock while the intro and ending feature feverish guitars and murky drums. It’s an excellent, catchy song that stands out with its siren-like riffs.

Protean Threat bears the hallmark of a huge ’80s progressive rock influence, from the wailing guitar riffs to the lightning-fast drums. The record melds Osees’ subtle garage rock roots with the psychedelic influence that the band has pioneered across previous releases, this time with more of a vintage flair. The band even goes so far as to channel a ’60s jazz-tinged tune on “If I Had My Way.”

“Upbeat Ritual” sounds incredibly similar to the stylings of prog titan Blue Öyster Cult. The sustained guitar twangs interjected between verses and the truncated crash of the cymbals make for a polished, almost classical tune that still fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. Dwyer’s rhythmic delivery is the icing on the cake, bouncing from note to note and reinforcing the thumping beat. Instrumental track “Wing Run” goes a step further and fully embraces the prog genre, especially noted with the hypnotic, avant-garde instrumentals that build up repeatedly in an offbeat manner.

Many of the songs weave in and out of garage rock territory, such as “Terminal Jape,” which sees a return of the guitar distortions and energetic lyrics. But the garage trend doesn’t last for long throughout the record; it comes back slightly on “Mizmuth,” but it’s still masked by experimental electronic riffs and pulses.

In addition to the phenomenal bass on “Said the Shovel” and “Gong of Catastrophe,” the album pulls off a variety of instrumental tricks and quirks without becoming a mess of thrown-in genres. “Persuaders Up!” ends the record with a frantic beat similar to “Scramble Suit II,” giving the album a cohesive finale.

A splendid mix of prog and garage rock, Protean Threat finds Osees doing what they do best: melding intricate guitar work and solid backbeats, but now with off-kilter electronic beeps. There’s less discernible guitar on the record and more Krautrock-inspired synth flairs and an interesting popup of microtonal sounds, but it’s refreshing to hear parts of the nearly extinct Krautrock genre revived through modern psychedelic rock. The musical stylings of Osees could easily fit into the ’70s or ’80s, as Dwyer and his colleagues are somehow able to capture the exact plucky tone that older veterans used to create the blueprint.

Protean Threat is unfortunately missing some of the sprawling epics that Osees have previously been known for, which makes it not as mind-melting as, say, Face Stabber or A Weird Exits. But overall, this album is an example of progressive rock done right. The record is not an homage to prog, but rather the definition of it.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected]. Tweet her at @callmepbj.