It occurs to me that Thee Oh Sees have a penchant for mixing seemingly unrelated things together in ways that other bands can’t. Take, for example, their musical style: a unique cocktail of surf, psych, garage and indie rock. Not only do they blend these elements together seamlessly, but with seven albums released in the past five years alone, they do it very prolifically, as well.
Then there’s the latest offering, Floating Coffin. The whole thing is a paradox, blending feel-good, artful psych rock with morbid themes of horror. The album cover epitomizes this unlikely combination: a vampire-like face peering at you from underneath a layer of plump, red strawberries, presented in kaleidoscope view to underscore the psychedelic vibe. To describe it, it sounds like an experiment that absolutely would not work, but Thee Oh Sees somehow make it work.
Seriously, if you just dive into the music on this album, you’ll taste the sonic “strawberries”, a collection of driving surf-rock rhythms, buzzy guitars, and eclectic, sometimes weird sounds that sort of dare you not to smile, or even dance. But take a harder listen to John Dwyer’s effected vocals, and you’ll feel the bite: songs about blood, murder, insanity. A perfect example is the song “Tunnel Time,” in which Dwyer sings about killing people, followed by an evil-laugh chorus of “Ha ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha ha”—driven by jangly guitars and a manic surf rock beat, and accentuated with a hauntingly happy flute solo in the middle. It’s just plain twisted. But it’s also art. And the whole album is sort of like that, mixing the sweet with the sickly in a way that somehow makes sense. (Really—how do they do that?)
Now, let’s be real for a minute: given the rash of violent acts we’ve seen in recent days, Floating Coffin might come off to some as a record that tastelessly makes light of evil. I can understand that reaction, but I can also tell you that as one who is deeply broken by the recent mass violence, this record didn’t offend me. I didn’t interpret it as either celebrating bloodshed or making light of it; instead, the blend of happy sounds with menacing lyrics really spoke the opposite to me—it exposed the absurdity. There’s a common belief that true art is an honest reflection of our surroundings; it isn’t always comfortable or feel-good, but that doesn’t make it any less an artful expression. Whatever your reaction to this album by Thee Oh Sees, it is bound to make you think. And that’s what art is supposed to do.