Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thee Oh Sees "Floating Coffin" (2013, Castle Face)

Thee Oh Sees have been the best band in America for so long it must be boring to them. It’s damn near getting boring for me. Floating Coffin is reliably excellent. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t have a fuuuuck yessssss moment on it. It’s the current newest record by the best band in America. The one with the strawberries and eyeballs and teeth on it. I don’t, and I’m guessing most people with an interest in it also won’t, have any idea what to do with it, other than to file it away in my ever-largening “O” section, and break it out again for the next time I play a game of rank the Oh Sees albums. Floating Coffin is battling for a fifth place that as a first place would be the envy of many, many lesser bands. 

The good news is after they went full pop-experimentalist with Putrifiers II last year and still didn’t become the gigantic cultural force we’ve always expected them to maybe become, the whole will-they won’t-they tension eased a bit. We already knew who Thee Oh Sees were, but last year who Thee Oh Sees are going to be snapped into focus. They will go down in history as a medium-sized cultural force with many devoted adherents, a few naysaying backlashers, and many more who shrug and walk away. Their cult will grow and intensify, and many will discover an impulse to claim an earlier than is strictly true membership in it, as if such meaningless distinctions as “since OCS” might buy a cup of coffee’s worth of social capital. This tendency to gravitate towards brainless worship on the part of the “hardcore” constituency will be annoying enough to keep the mildly curious at arm’s length, through no fault of their own. 

So it’s won’t-they be the biggest, and will-they be the best. Which is great. We can all put the binoculars down and enjoy. Now the only remaining question about the Oh Sees as a creative entity is the shape of their denouement. Will they split up and pursue intertwining “solo” careers wherein Brigid Dawson haunts us forever with a Marble Index (the limited-edition flexi of “There Is A Balm In Gilead” hints at the plausibility of this) and John Dwyer pulls a Transformer out of his ass and becomes royalty and lapses into a languid state of non-production punctuated by a series of insane-seeming instant guaranteed failures, such as collaborating with Missy Elliot on a country album? Will Dwyer finally form the neo-garage Travelling Wilburys with Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin and Kyle “King Tuff” Thomas? Will there be drama and hurt feelings and success panic and drug abuse and bizarre Axl Rose rock and roll attitude problems? Will the Oh Sees stick together and just keep on releasing new records into prolific infinity like the similarly cultish Guided By Voices, with maybe an occasional five year break in there from which they will return invigorated and purposeful? 

Our dear Oh Sees are a likely candidate for the GBV option. The production models, aesthetic, and reception of the two entities all match pretty evenly up to this point. From now on we can greet new Thee Oh Sees releases with this is their this and this is their that album comparisons (this is their Earthquake Glue), and debate returns to form and departure points, and generally drop their name to make any strained, cred-grabbing metaphors in our lazy critical rhetoric, and it will work, like a tired old dog compulsively chasing a tennis ball. You know, like Guided By Voices. Just like Guided By Voices. A band I know about. Thee Oh Sees. Guided By Voices. And the same thing will happen to the fanbase: more and more people hopping off the bandwagon every year to buy houses and start families and stop giving a shit about anything dumb like this. The remaining bandwagon denizens will by percentage grow more intensely devoted and twitchy, loner cultural tourists showing up to the record store when there’s a new Oh Sees album and bugging the clerks with pseudo-academic analysis small talk about it while the eyerolling clerks are on the next thing which is the same thing but newer and less known. 

I see my own fate in there. My own Floating Coffin, drawing me inexorably forward like an otherworldly monolith. Maybe that's the version of death they're talking about this time. It's always hard to tell.