Album Review: Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin

In an interview with The Paris Review, the famously prolific author and bon vivant Henry Miller — whose work ethic lay somewhere between highly disciplined and maniacally compulsive — explained his process. He would wake in the early morning, around 4 or 5, and hit the typewriter. Around 10 he would have some breakfast and then go back to work and write till the early afternoon. A nap after lunch and then more hunting and pecking until midnight; or until exhaustion took hold. But this was in what he referred to as “the very beginning”. He was a young, romantic-minded writer abounding in energy and creative chutzpah and, it’s important to note, he was also naive. “In the last ten or fifteen years,” he said, “I’ve found that it isn’t necessary to work that much. It’s bad, in fact. You drain the reservoir”.You drain the reservoir. It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand what Miller meant by that. Or at least, what I thought he meant. What the hell do I know? He’s Henry Miller. Anyone would think that “draining the reservoir” would mean completely exhausting the source of your creativity, leaving it barren and empty without any new depths to plumb—you’re out, done son. But this is not so. Art is not water. You can always keep going if you’re determined enough, nothing is going to stop you. It would be too easy if you were simply cut off by some bizarre physiological cessation every time you’re edging past quality work. Instead, one can keep going long after the well has been tapped dry, and it leads one to doing worse than simply not doing anything at all.Making a bad record isn’t a tragedy in itself, often it’s symptomatic of the decline of a great talent, and that can be tragic. But even the shittiest records can have some personality (see: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music). It’s when a band or musician is running on empty but refuse to get out of the car that things start turning grim, all the worse if it’s because they haven’t taken any time to refuel.Thee Oh Sees’ leader John Dwyer seems to be on a mission to assault his fans with a cache of tinny, garage screeches every six months. The newest offense, Floating Coffin, doesn’t sound drained or exhausted. It’s an effortless listen, even enjoyable; all you have to do is ignore the fact that you’re listening to a record that’s been released multiple times in just the last couple of years.Everything is the usual fare. There’s fuzz, there’s tin, there’s falsetto and twee little affectations (“Sweets Helicopter”), blood does curdle and things screech and wail (“Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”), atmospheric trills (“The Floating Coffin”) and every direction a Big Muff can take you are explored, or rather revisited. Things even get a little quiet, but of course it’s only to lull you into a warm little nest of security to be set ablaze by incendiary power chord riffage (“No Spell”). Dwyer and co. lay the invective on thick and there’s quite the body count on this album, but it’s no more angst-ridden than the record they put out last year, or the two in 2011, or… you get the picture.One of the saving graces of this album is that it doesn’t bother with dime-store profundity. Credit where credit’s due, Thee Oh Sees know exactly what they are and they don’t bother with any kind of front. This gives Floating Coffin the kind of breezy f***-em-all-ness that you want in a record that sounds the way Floating Coffin does. It’s not brilliant, or even engaging, but it’ll tide you over until the next Deerhunter album.by Greg Moskovitch

April 18th 2013
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