Tommy Santee Klaws is a tricky band to write about, and not just because they cross a lot of genres and defy a lot of expectations. No, Tommy Santee Klaws is a hard band to write about because I usually have no idea what any of their songs are about. I just like the way they sound and how they make me feel. Instead of stories or characters you can relate to, TSK lyrics are like a good haiku: strong natural imagery, a suggestive turn of phrase and plenty of wide open space in which to find your own meaning. Birds sing "information" while "in formation." We don't need "nobodies" or "no bodies." His lyrics are deeply felt, highly evocative and ambiguous enough that for all I know they could be about his cats.
The vague poetry that characterizes TSK's impressive catalog was nowhere to be found on "Shit Piece," the lead single to 2016's "Oh Beast." With the possible exception of Rihanna's "Sex With Me Is So Amazing," its hard to think of a song that's less interested in metaphor, innuendo or ambiguity.
"You're a little fucking piece of shit," Tommy repeats as a chorus of voices slowly join him. He admits to having "violent thoughts" and wanting to "make some holes and pull your insides to the outside." And in case there were any lingering doubts: "Unoriginal and salacious/a disease, a goddamn virus/I dream your stomach falls out." He drives that "dream your stomach falls out" point home by repeating it a few more times.
TSK was never a feel-good band, but they never struck me as a feel-bad one. Tommy is a jolly pet lover with a tender falsetto voice and an acoustic guitar. He's usually accompanied by his wife Donna, who performs a mix of toys and curious found objects that aren't played for laughs. To the contrary, the toys only deepen the emotional resonance of the songs by constantly evoking childhood memories. "I hear your voice/I know you're here," they harmonize on "Bed of Hair," a tearjerker on their 2012 album "Of Light."
So yeah...the eye-lid ripping of "Shit Piece" exists at the opposite end of the lyrical spectrum. To call the album "bleak" might be an understatement. In addition to stomachs falling out, the lyrics are packed with references to lies, abuse, death, boiling suns, exploding eyeballs, getting fucked in the ass and assholes that bleed. The music has changed pretty radically too. Aside from Tommy's guitar, there are no other folksy acoustic instruments on "Oh Beast." They've been replaced by electric guitar, distorted drums and pulsing electronic notes.
As a fan of TSK's lighter fare, "Shit Piece" and the entire "Oh Beast" album was pretty startling. But not in a bad way. It's the TSK album I listen to the most. Personally, I like electric guitars and distorted drums more than mandolins and violins anyway. If anything, the fact that it's so different only makes it more fun to listen to. Who could possibly piss Tommy Santee Klaws off enough that he'd write a song like "Shit Piece?" If there is an answer to the obvious question posed by the song's existence, it would probably be a disappointment.
But for all I know, it's about his cats.