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Oh Sees Take Their Psychedelic Squall Up a Level With “Anthemic Aggressor”

More rock bands should be shooting for the sound of Miles Davis in the 1970s. Granted, that’s basically an impossible bar to meet. The albums the legendary jazz trumpeter made in that decade—which channeled the influences of funk, rock ‘n’ roll, and avant-garde music into a roiling psychedelic brew—remain some of the most audacious, electrifying, and singularly inventive recorded works of all time, in any genre. He essentially invented his own style of dense electric group improvisation, and brought that style to its zenith, all at the same time. It’s hard to imagine a later artist picking up the electric Miles sound and bringing it any further than he did to begin with. But you might as well try, right? Even if you’re not playing on the same level as Davis and his crack bands, pushing yourself to those edges should at least yield some interesting accidents.

The terminally prolific psych rocker John Dwyer and his band Oh Sees (they dropped the Thee) are fairly transparently going for it on “Anthemic Aggressor,” an acid-fried 12-minute instrumental jam that serves as a clear highlight of their new album Smote Reverser. For a minute, you could almost mistake it for an outtake from Live-Evil. “Anthemic Aggressor” begins with its groove fully formed, as if the band has been heating up for a few minutes already and they’ve only just decided to let you in on it—distinctly recalling producer Teo Macero’s extreme tape-editing tactics on those Davis albums. There’s a drummer for each stereo channel, both of them pounding out tight snare-heavy beats, and a funky asymmetrical bass line keeping the momentum high. Those elements are consistently repetitive, which is good, because everything else is in constant flux: dissonant wooshes of electronics, chunky electric piano chords, and above all, Dwyer’s guitar. He’s an underrated player, and has plenty of room to stretch out here, approximating both Davis’s own stuttering ’70s phrasing and the elongated bluesy licks of his frequent guitar collaborator John McLaughlin.

Oh Sees have spent their past couple of albums bringing the garage rock on which they built their name into far more adventurous territory, and “Anthemic Aggressor” is the furthest out they’ve gotten yet. Naturally, they don’t pave any ground Davis didn’t already get to several decades ago, and they’re quite a bit more tonally reined-in than his players. But for a band that’s still best known for straight-up rock songs, it’s a thrill to hear them trying.