Thee Oh Sees would win points for prolific-ness, even if they were nothing else. Since 2003, when John Patrick Dwyer first plugged in a tape recorder as a break from spazz-banging Coachwhips and alternatively-lifestyled Zeigenbock Kopf, the solo project (and later band) has produced at least one full-length per year (two in 2011), a few singles and, typically, a split or two (with likeminded souls like Ty Segall, The Intelligence, Jay Reatard and Total Control). In the process, Dwyer has midwifed a pretty vibrant Bay Area garage scene — finding musicians, sharing bills with them and, with the advent of Castle Face, helping to record kids like Segall, The Fresh & Onlys, Bare Wires/Warm Soda and others.
Now entering its second decade, the band – that’s Dwyer, Brigid Dawson, Finn Larson from The Intelligence, Pete Dammit! and Mike Shoun – has gotten razor tight without sacrificing its crazy excesses. An Oh Sees show — set up on the floor not the stage and starting before anyone has a chance to get oriented — rages theatrically, maniacally, in an off-the-rails invocation of Chuck Berry crossed with Iggy Pop. Dwyer and his cohorts have saved two watered down, derivative, swag-obsessed SXSWs for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Floating Coffin is the band’s 12th full-length, the ninth since the early solo numbered experiments, the seventh since the solidification of the current line-up (though Lars Finberg is a later addition than the others). As an album, it drifts perceptibly away from the Coachwhips-style bangers of earlier albums, moving more towards filmy psych and droning kraut. “Strawberries 1+2” merges the two styles, starting in frantic, then shifting to a trippily serene daydream. It’s interesting, because the riff that undergirds the first part of the song continues through the end, though dipped in molasses, slowed and sweetened and made slightly surreal in the second half of the song.
Other songs make the connection between sweaty chug and poetic reverie through juxtaposition rather than sequential exploration. “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” blares and swaggers with guitars, its tone a blatting distortion, muscle ribbed through with indolent fat. Yet when they arrive, the voices (Dwyer and Dawson) are almost falsetto, distant, disembodied and fair. It’s like a nightmare turning into a Peter Max fantasy, or maybe the reverse. You feel yourself on an adrenalized edge between ecstasy and psychosis.
Floating Coffin leans more than usual on the motorik, finding a lovely light-filled propulsion in Neu!-ish “No Spell,” a gnarled and proggy abandon in the title track (it sounds like Psychic Paramount), a Can-like abstract groove in “Maze Fancier.” “Floating Coffin,” in particular, is a fantastic mess of careening sound, a bass in frenetic motion against a white-noise skree of guitars, the voices unbothered and serene above the tumult.
“Minotaur,” oddly both the album’s first single and its closing track, dips further into late Beatles psychedelia, with its rough vibrations of cello and its vocal counterpoints. “La la la la la la,” Dwyer barks, amid string flourishes and pretty pop fancies, and you can hear the punk past, the propulsive present and the baroque psych experiment all melding stitch-less-ly into one of indie rock’s most idiosyncratic wholes. Lots of bands that record one or more albums per year are just crapping out more of the same. Thee Oh Sees continue to mutate in fascinating ways.
(Review by: J. Caldwell)