PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Thee Oh Sees: Floating Coffin

On their 15th album, Thee Oh Sees remind us that garage rock isn't the narrow sound we make it out to be.

Thee Oh Sees

Floating Coffin

US Release: 2013-04-23
UK Release: 2013-04-15
Label: Castle Face

John Dwyer and his project, Thee Oh Sees, has been wonderfully impossible to pin down over 15 albums. There have always been different experiments with pop-folk and psychedelia and all kinds of fuzzy, eccentric noise play. But with last year's Putrifiers II, the band found a concise mix of all its wide sounds. The fuzz was made all the fuzzier by giving it just a touch more polish, a touch more shape. It scraped the barnacles – great though they were – of the band's music and exposed the bittersweet melodies underneath.

Floating Coffin both extends and distorts that progression. It's another tense, potent dose of rocking jangle, but it's also darker than its predecessor and more interested in tonal and mood shifts mid-song. Opener "I Came from the Mountain", though, doesn't make this evident right up front. That song, a blistering rock tune busting with perfect riffs, is steadfast in its breakneck pace. It vacillates between a guitar hook, a nice organ rundown, and verses, circling through this progression over and over again, running on way longer than you think. But this testing of the limits of repetition – which, oddly enough, recalls mid-'60s Dylan in its brilliant stubbornness – is a fascinating Trojan horse, an impossibly catchy opener that also mesmerizes, only to drop you into the shadowy skronk of "Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster", which stretches the hooks out to classic-rock, arena-size, pitting them against the ethereal vocals of Brigid Dawson.

The punk murk of the title track that follows is a quick and dirty take, but also your last real chance to catch your breath. The middle of the record is anchored by "No Spell" and "Strawberries 1 +2". These are the two most ambitious songs on the record, but also the most melodically strong oddly enough. "No Spell" is honeyed and propulsive, Dwyer and Dawson deliver gossamer vocal harmonies over a pulsing bass line. It's not a song that changes pace or direction so much as it muddles its composition in interesting ways. The guitars melt and run together with keys and even the vocals in between quiet choruses, so the eruption of sound is all-encompassing, the kind of mess you're likely to sift through and – midway through – find there's an order to it. "Strawberries 1+2", as you may tell by the title, is a more two-faced affair. It starts with fuzzed-out, edgy blues-rock, but it's when it shifts halfway through that we see the true limits – or lack there of – the band's potential. It's a space-rock freak-out worthy of Pink Floyd comparisons, but more interested in interplay between sounds and meshing melody with space than it is in self-indulgent jamming. It's a perfect space for Dawson's voice, doubled here to drive home its haunting allure. She becomes some sort of garage-rock mystic, telling us things like "we are future" but leaving us to simply feel those lines and worry about what they might mean later. They're a dim light for a path rather than a map to a destination.

It's interesting to note the thematic concerns here – of violence, darkness, some link between these things (and bloodshed) and a dangerous kind of being lost – but they also but up against a pretty pure, unnecessary to fully define rock and roll bliss. It's also tricky to figure all this out since the vocals aren't clear and, when they are, the lyrics don't exactly specify their intentions. We do have a "Minotaur" and a man lost in a maze, and these help frame songs, but only so much.

The more interesting thing about Floating Coffin, though, might be how its examination of genre is revelatory, almost political. They're a band inextricably tied to terms like garage rock (see above), and yet the more boilerplate garage rock moments seem the least bracing. This is perhaps because, like the best lo-fi bands for example, what Dwyer and company do is remind us that garage rock isn't the narrow sound we make it out to be, that it's more a convenient identifier than a real-world musical sound. What we get is the fury and excitement of creating something in secret, away from the living (the house ostensibly attached to the garage), something both underground and very much a part of terra firma. Thee Oh Sees, in short, remind us that garage rock – or lo-fi or psych-pop or whatever other name you pin on them – will inevitably fall short in describing the music. But what it does tell us about is the hunger in this sound, the absolute necessity to create a feel in all of these songs. But even if Dwyer and company are hungry, this album shows they're not interested in scraps. These songs take big bites, bites that take some chewing – for player and listener – to get through them, to find the good stuff in them we need.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.