Wild Mercury Sound
Thee Oh Sees: "Floating Coffin"
John Dwyer has the sort of discography so deep and complicated that one suspects even he must have trouble keeping up with himself. As a consequence, it might be a mistake to try and divine paths and trends in career which his encompassed Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, Landed, Yikes, Burmese, The Hospitals, Zeigenbock Kopf and Sword + Sandals (according to Wikipedia, anyway, if I can emphasise my spotty knowledge any more) as well as Thee Oh Sees.
Still, it’s a music journalist’s dubious lot to do just that, and so – risking crude generalisations etc – it feels that, since 2010’s “Warm Slime”, Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees have mostly been finessing a kind of music that might usefully be described as hypno-garage (I’m 95 per cent sure I’ve read this tag somewhere else; apologies for the plagiarism). Hypno-garage, I think, essentially means that Thee Oh Sees have found a way of mixing, at speed, pre-punk punk with the bug-eyed disciplines of spacerock and Kraut, so that it becomes at once exhilarating and mantric. If, in the past, Dwyer’s music has reflected dilettante-ish enthusiasms, now it seems to have a more ruthless focus (that is, if we disregard 2011’s “Castlemania”, which was poppier, gentler and maybe even fractionally twee, though in truth I haven’t heard it for a while).
“Floating Coffin”, anyway, feels like the culmination of all that, and it’s fantastic. The dominant mode is galloping, double-drummered, overdriven but super-tight ramalam. Sometimes, as on the opening “I Come From The Mountain”, Dwyer affects a clipped rasp that makes him sound a little like the guy from The Trashmen. Mostly, though, his voice is high and gusting, something which seems to blur, meld into that of Brigid Dawson, and give an even greater impression of momentum to these generally brilliant tunes.
The hectic psych-punk of “Strawberries 1+2” might be, ironically, the closest Dwyer has got to the sound of his Bay Area disciples like Ty Segall. But more often, “Floating Coffin” feels an ultra-evolved take on the garage rock aesthetic, one that’s learned plenty from Neu! (check the radically accelerated Dingerbeat of “No Spell”), Can (check the radically accelerated “Mother Sky” bassline on the outstanding “Maze Fancier”) and pre-“Autobahn” Kraftwerk (check the etc etc “Ruckzuck”-style flute solo on “Tunnel Time”) along the way.
A few bands have been in this vicinity before, of course; Th’Faith Healers spring to mind a few times as “Floating Coffin” blasts along. The skilled combination of lurch and thrust is reminiscent, too, of The Fall in their Hanley/Scanlon/Wollstonecraft heyday, not least on the closing “Minotaur”, which adds violin and droll gravitas, and recalls, after a fashion, “Bill Is Dead”.
I’m conscious that these slightly rushed blogs can sometimes become bogged down in checklists of perceived influences; when assessing a record at relative speed, it’s easy to resort to using references as signposts if there isn’t the time to engage with the music more thoughtfully. The point is, bands who are as much fun as Thee Oh Sees work through their influences to end up sounding like the latest entry on a continuum of great music, not a mere derivative of it. And if you’ve never come across them before, I can’t recommend “Floating Coffin” highly enough as a place to start. Try this:
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Photograph: Kristen Klein