Seek The Minotaur

I like Floating Coffin’s horned highlight

by James Brotheridge

The Oh Sees

Thee Oh Sees Floating coffin
Thee Oh Sees

Floating Coffin

Castle Face

3 out of 5

Part of me thinks John Dwyer, San Francisco legend and main man of Thee Oh Sees, heard Ty Segall’s Twins and got ideas from that 2012 record’s huge, psychedelic garage-rock heaviness.

There’s a couple reason to think this.

First, Dwyer’s one of the guys who runs the California label Castle Face Records, a clearing house for vinyl and tape fetishists and rock ’n’ roll weirdos — and Segall’s popped up there in the past.

Second, there was certainly time for Dwyer to respond to Segall’s October 2012 record.

Dwyer records and releases material quickly — one album a year since 2004 (with two out in 2011). The last was Putrifiers II, one of the Thee Oh Sees records where Dwyer recorded the whole thing more or less himself. On Putrifiers II he indulged impulses from shiny 1960s pop (“Hang A Picture”) to shaggy, organ-heavy garage rock (“Lupine Dominus”).

Dwyer wrote and recorded Floating Coffin with the full band. The lead-off track, “I Come from the Mountain”, locks into an unstoppable groove and hits it hard — a furious bit of playing I get sweaty just listening to. Elsewhere, psychedelic ambitions push their way out, and here’s where the Twins influence comes in: some songs use distortion and similar guitar work to try to nail that same heaviness.

But while Segall melts speakers, Dwyer’s attempt sounds oddly sludgy.

The record’s outlier is “Minotaur”, a song released in advance of the album and easily a personal favourite from the band’s whole catalogue. The strings and melody pack menace in a way that echoes the Velvet Underground.

I’ll put Floating Coffin’s off moments down to growing pains.

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cd-thermals

The Thermals

Desperate Ground

Saddle Creek

3.5 / 5

The Thermals are one of the few bands to whom the stock music criticism term “anthemic” actually applies. Really, grab some headphones, queue up their 2006 single “A Pillar of Salt” and see how quickly you get arrested for shouting along(it depends whether or not you’re interrupting a showing of The Croods, as I was). Ten years in, their spare but blown-out power chordism continues with Desperate Ground.

The core of the band is always the ranting of guitarist Hutch Harris. But like their last album, his voice is used more for personal matters, as on “You Will Find Me” and “Our Love Survives”, than for his trademark tracts against war and religion. That said, this isn’t any great departure for the group –– it has guitars and yelling, and it’s going to cause some speeding tickets. It’s familiar and it’s great – emphasis on the first thing. /Mason Pitzel

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cd-burninghell

The Burning Hell

People

Headless Owl

3 out of 5

The Burning Hell are a SHUT UP LYRICS ARE HAPPENING proposition. That’s not a put-down. Mathias Kom writes fantastic, funny, super-quotable lyrics, which he sings in a Cool-Dude-Narrator voice that aims to give each li’l line justice. On People, that approach stays the same, with each song crafted in a way that allows Kom’s words to play lead. The lyrics here are mostly memorable, but the album’s “baroque pop meets vagabond folk with a foot in cabaret musical” coating is way more hit or miss. The cinematic, downright Lambchop-esque “Travel Writers” flexes some gorgeous accompaniment muscle, while the ropey reggae-dabbling “Realists” qualifies for the miss portion of the equation –like fucking maximum miss.  Pick up this offering for the bon mots; they’re the featured attraction here. /Dan MacRae

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cd-steveearle

Steve Earle and the Dukes (and Duchesses)

The Low Highway

New West Records

2 out of 5

Since 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now, Texas-born musical outlaw cum Zen master Steve Earle has been in a bit of a creative slump, which, unfortunately, The Low Highway appears to continue. It’s marred by Ray Kennedy’s muddy, bass-heavy production. Earle sounds like he’s singing with a mouthful of cotton and his band sounds like they’re playing through speakers dunked in pizza sauce. Oh, there’s some good stuff here. But how much of what’s good has been done before, if not by Earle, then by others?

The worst thing one can say about an album is that it’s nice, but not essential. That’s doubly true of Earle’s career, which he has built and rebuilt by walking the talk. For most of the album, Earle sounds tired, irritated and a little distracted, almost as if the recording studio is the one place he doesn’t want to be. /Stephen LaRose

2013-04-18