San Francisco band Thee Oh Sees has always straddled the line between garage, psychedelic, and punk rock throughout their many releases. Their latest release, Floating Coffin, is no different, imbuing a perfect blend of what fans have come to know and love. Floating Coffin allows the band to show off their adeptness at songwriting and twisting together songs that sound both somber and manic at once. It’s a sadistic album that fits right in with the weirdest of their past creations, yet is something completely different and original.
The album is far from being a lighthearted affair. With every riff of the guitar, every beat of the drum, you can feel the madness and bleakness of the songs, and this is all thanks to some seriously messed up songwriting. Both “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” and “Tunnel Time” are eerie portrayals of slaughter and murder, the latter being infused with vocalist John Dwyer fiendishly cackling “Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha,” between his lyrics of killing people. Even the video for “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” is a look at a serial killer murdering everyone who happens to witness him performing his satanic deeds. It’s songs like these that shine the brightest on the album, despite the dim material bringing some disturbing things indeed.
Meshing together with the lyrics of dead children and gushing blood are the less than subtle signs that Dwyer is descending into madness. Songs like “Maze Fancier” and the brilliantly brooding “Minotaur” could fit into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, as they all deal with the labyrinthine state of Dwyer’s psyche, just as Jack Torrance’s insanity drives him to his own maze. “Maze Fancier” sees Dwyer repeating over and over, “nothing is inside of me,” while “Minotaur” is the miserable story of a depressed Minotaur that just wants to be loved, but meets an untimely demise. The themes of convolution and death are more prevalent on Floating Coffin than on any other Thee Oh Sees album.
What is so interesting about the album is that despite its insatiably dark lyrics and concepts, it doesn’t sound dark at all. This is due to the overwhelming guitar mixed with Dwyer’s high falsetto, making it hard to make out the lyrics in a lot of the darker songs. At first listen, the album doesn’t seem like the bleak piece of work it really is, but just like on the cover, there is a monster behind everything that might seem good. This is what makes Floating Coffin so unique; it allows the listener to hear what they want to—whether it’s Dwyer’s scathing lyrics of murder sprees and insanity, or just some good old-fashioned punk rock.
Floating Coffin is by far some of Thee Oh Sees’ best work to date. With masterful songs like “Minotaur” and “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster,” this album would have done well enough anyway, but every song fits in perfectly. Dwyer’s songwriting may be at its best when it’s at its most disturbing, and this trait helps the album out a lot in terms of the black concepts it spews out. Overall, Floating Coffin is a great album with incredible songwriting, catchy guitars, and lyrics that will haunt you for days to come.