Hot Snakes - Jericho Sirens
Formed as a side-project in 1999 by Rick Froberg and John Reis, Hot Snakes released 3 punk/post-hardcore albums before breaking up in 2005. The band was resurrected in 2010, and now eight years later Hot Snakes have released Jericho Sirens, their first studio album in 14 years. Let’s see if they’ve still got it.
It’s clear from the get-go this album’s a straight-up, no-funny-business rocker. Clocking in at only 30 minutes, every track is focused and direct - the longest is just under 4 minutes. Jericho Sirens has great production quality, with a rich, full-bodied sound. Vocalist Rick Froberg suits the style perfectly and is right in his element. His voice can be soft or harsh, and this gives the album a distinct energetic character.
The guitar work of Reid and Froberg - who have worked together before in bands Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu – are the driving force of the album. The two guitarists’ chemistry is apparent, and while they never stray too far away from a common ground, they complement each other nicely. Although these guys are all over forty by now, one can almost smell the sweat dripping off their beat-up Stratocasters as they rip through lively tunes. They attack with a sharp, crisp bite and never let their foot off the gas.
The opening “I Need a Doctor” immediately hooks the listener with a high-octane guitar riff and the song twists and winds its way through short but feisty sections. While Froberg has an ideal voice and singing style, lyrics of the first track such as “I need to be near the toilet, I need a doctor” just don’t quite engage the listener and draw us in. Although this kind of lyricism is not unusual for the genre or band (see “Think About Carbs” from 2004’s Audit In Progress), when combined with the simplistic backing instrumentals, they come off as uninspired and unpoetic. After this first track, the lyrical meaning of the rest of the album went by the wayside.
After the solid opener, the following two tracks “Candid Cameras” and “Why Don’t it Sink In?” were big surprises. Do they bring the album some much-needed complexity and innovation? Are they a puzzle that requires several listens to fully process? Unfortunately, no. The band really didn’t play off their strengths here, and perhaps they were attempts at experimentation to add some variety, but they fall oh-so-flat on their face. “Candid Cameras” has an off-putting stop-and-go rhythm and its repetitive structure lacks a central focal point. It feels so incomplete that it seems like it should be the bridge section of a much bigger piece and not a standalone track. “Why Don’t It Sink In?” is a frantic sea of noise with jarring chords and rough vocals that would be a suiting soundtrack to a fourth grader's lash-out after their mom hid the cookies. They are the weakest songs of Jericho Sirens, and not only are unenjoyable when taken individually, but they throw the entire album out of balance. Diversity is not always a good thing, as this album is no longer a collection of simple, easy-on-the-ears tunes for the skatepark – which it could have been. The listener is now left wondering what exactly the band was trying to accomplish with this release.
Hopefully, you can stop these two tracks from resonating in your ears before the continuing because “Six Wave Hold-Down” is the highlight of the album. It’s got an excellent variety of soft and heavy sections, as well as a super catchy chorus. The guitars, bass, and drums all work in unison to provide a lively backing for Froberg’s voice. This is where Jericho Sirens really hits its stride, and where Hot Snakes are at their best. The joyful sounding guitars and unforgiving vocals sound almost like a supercharged Mac DeMarco after he’s smoked a full pack of Viceroys. As one of the longer songs on the album, “Six Wave Hold-Down” is still just over 3 minutes. This could have been more stretched-out and developed, but a solid track none-the-less.
“Jericho Sirens” keeps the good times rolling with a firm, steady beat throughout the song, and we get little tastes of tambourine and harmonica instrumentation that provide some subtle layering. Its determined rhythm gives it a strength that begs to be displayed loud and proud. “Having Another?” has the most variation with some creative guitar riffs and fiercely delivered vocals give it a power and energy that stand out on the album.
Some excessive repetition troubles Jericho Sirens as it continues. Songs are straight-forward and lack a sense of rising and falling action. Because of this, the album fails to provide many memorable moments. There isn’t much in the way of elaborate song composition, and songs are static, often with little variation in tempo or transitions. There also isn’t a lot to appreciate regarding technical instrumentation either. With no guitar solos and nearly identical drum patterns, many songs seem to blur together. There’s definitely something to be said for simplicity, but on a 30-minute blitz of an album the listener should never be bored or feeling like they’ve heard this song before. “Death Doula” is a particularly tiresome and repetitive track, and is also, unfortunately, the second longest.
There are some notable pieces, such as “Six Wave Hold Down” and “Jericho Sirens”. Taken on their own, they’ll fit in nicely with your summer skateboard playlist. But for a such a short album, its high points are few and surprisingly far between. Every track feels half-complete, like an idea that didn’t get the band’s full consideration and commitment. We got tiny samples of variation (like the insertion of tambourines and harmonica on “Jericho Sirens”), but never fully fleshed-out, colorful brushstrokes. As a result, the listener is left half-engaged. Energetic and catchy tunes like “Psychoactive” and “Having Another?” will peak your interest momentarily, but bland lyricism and repetitive instrumentation keep them from fully commanding your attention. Low points like “Candid Cameras”, “Why Don’t It Sink In?”, and “Death Doula” also prevent this album from being a smooth listen to casually throw on and enjoy in the background.
The bottom line: Spare yourself the pain of some of the low points at the beginning of the album and start at the highlight; “Six Wave Hold Down”. If it peaks your interest, keep listening and there may be some more enjoyment to be had, but don’t expect any creative masterpieces.