We all know the type: Prolific bands who commit every loose thought, stray idea and 90-second song fragment to tape. Bands who pay no attention to little inconveniences like “release cycles” or “self-editing,” and instead decide that quantity equals quality, creating a discography more labyrinthine, imposing and – ultimately – exhausting than the cast of creatures in a sci-fi novel.
Here is why none of that applies to Thee Oh Sees. Because each of the dozen-plus albums they’ve released since 2004 are possess a distinct personality and represents a different point along the path of John Dwyer’s slow transformation from auteur of woozy bare-bones four-track psychedelia to goggle-eyed garage rock marauder backed at long last by a band that both shares and stokes his singular vision. Because drop a needle on any record and – to their great credit – it takes several songs before you’re convinced it’s Thee Oh Sees. The seasick hundred-bottles-of-rum shanty “What the Driven Drink,” from 2007’s delirious Sucks Blood exists in a different galaxy than the rollercoastering “Chem-Farmer” from last year’s Carrion Crawler/The Dream; the doomy doo-wop of “Blood on the Deck” hardly seems like the product of the same band who delivered the yelping “Ruby Go Home” in 2009. And the band who made last year’s engrossing Putrifiers II seems like a distant cousin to the band delivering Floating Coffin — arguably the most varied and textured Oh Sees record to date.
“These songs occur in the mindset of a world that’s perpetually war-ridden,” Dwyer explains. “Overall, it’s pretty dark, and much heavier than our other albums.” You can hear that sense of foreboding in “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster,” which churns and sloshes like an ocean of ink, Dwyer’s ghostly falsetto an eerie contrast with the song’s sub-basement groove. “That one’s a song about war,” Dwyer explains, “It’s like people take less notice of those horrors anymore. Dark goings-on are so ever present that they can just wash over you every day.”
Chalk some of the band’s cunning chameleonic ability to Dwyer’s 20-year resume. The driving force behind such beloved and sonically disparate bands as Coachwhips and Pink and Brown, Dwyer’s increased fidelity to Thee Oh Sees and only Thee Oh Sees is evidence of a newfound sense of purpose and focus. Where once Dwyer used to funnel his divergent artistic ideas through a host of different channels, lately he’s been finding ways to make all of those impulses function within the framework of Thee Oh Sees — who have in turn grown closer and tighter and sharper with each eye-popping, jaw-dropping live show. As Dwyer puts it: “The family that plays together stays together.”
That sense of unity is palpable throughout Floating Coffin. “Strawberries 1 + 2” is a blinding flash of sound, the band first locking tight into a frenetic, palpitating rhythm then downshifting suddenly into a loose, hypnotic drone. “I could have made the second half of this song last for hours,” Dwyer says. “This is another song that’s wary of the outside world, about humans staring down technology.” “Tunnel Time” opens with a short-circuiting synth sound before diving into haywire blast-furnace punk rock made more manic by Dwyer’s split-second hollers and howls. The skeleton waltz of “Minotaur,” which opens with Dwyer sighing, “Oil slick in my dinner,” gradually gives way to a distinct sense of optimism. “That one’s relatively less ominous,” Dwyer explains. “It’s about dream-hunting – being the person you feel you were meant to be.” That sense of release is summed up in a single lyric, which shows up just after a squad of swooping strings provides an impromptu serenade: “Stay home today – go to the beach instead.”
It’s moments like those that underscore just how unique this band is – each new layer of their persona that’s revealed only hints at the thousands that still remain. Floating Coffin is the next chapter in the story of Thee Oh Sees, the one where they fix their fury against the onrushing night. It’s another blistering demonstration of Thee Oh Sees greatest trick: they’re the only prolific band who doesn’t put out records often enough.
04/05/13 Roxy Benefit Verdi Club – San Francisco, CA
04/14/13 Coachella – Indio, CA
04/21/13 Coachella – Indio, CA
6/21-6/23/13 Sled Island Festival – Calgary, AB