by Jeff Nale (@jeffnale)
You’ve got to hand it to Hot Snakes—they know how to be a punk band. Not everyone might agree that the music they make—even Jericho Sirens, their fiercest and latest—is outrightly punk, but it doesn’t matter to them, or me.
The last Hot Snakes album was released 14 damned years ago, and while it’s unclear why John Reis, Rick Froberg, Gar Wood, and drummers Jason Kourkounis & Mario Rubalcaba decided to get the band back together, it is abundantly clear that it was a very, very good idea.
Jericho Sirens is a fiery, stripped down, juggernaut that, by the end, feels like a referendum on the banal, a manifesto against bullshit.
Reis & Froberg have been fighting this fight since their days in the seminal noise-outfit Drive Like Jehu, and this collection of Hot Snakes songs gets as close to the brilliant, seething dissonance that Jehu’s Yank Crime did in 1994.
From the first track—“I Need a Doctor”, which is tense and circular, and, much like the rest of the album, sounds something like an engine wrestling a python—the band is pulsing with an effortless energy. The songs are played clean, with a fevered pace and an acerbic wit in place of studio affects or overdriven amplifiers. Froberg’s voice is as abrasive and resonant as it ever was, and Reis’s guitar work is as ambitious as anything he’s done in the last twenty years. Not bad for a couple of guys nearing their AARP memberships.
While the album is heavy on fast-paced, agitated songs—“Why Don’t It Sink In?” is short burst punk angst that might make you wonder if they’re actually shredding their instruments—the songs are at their best when they pivot and let a little air in. The title track is the best evidence to this. It has a swagger that only these guys could create, with off-putting, pendulous verses, but a chorus that slows, and allows for a big payoff. It’s no ballad, but it’s the one song on the album that doesn’t sound like it was recorded on a griddle.
Froberg’s lyrics are paranoid and fixated on death, which is fine if you ask me, or anyone who remembers Faith No More’s Angel Dust. “Have I been preyed upon?” Froberg sings on ‘Death Camp Fantasy’, like he’s got an itch he cannot scratch. “I want you” he seethes on ‘Death Doula’. “I want you replaced.”
The fractured and fearless ‘Having Another?’ is something to behold, with its sweeping arcs and layered noise. It’s as close as we’ll get to another Drive Like Jehu song (for now). If there’s a single here—which, I acknowledge, is a strange thing to say about a band that’s rarely been spotted on a radio dial—it’s ‘Six Wave Hold Down’, the most tuneful song in the bunch as well as a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, shit-talking barnburner.
The album closes with ‘Death of a Sportsman’, which conjures Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’, or maybe Midnight Oil, and which I kind of hope is about Donald & Eric Trump’s terrible pastime of hunting endangered animals. ‘Sportsman’ is the third of three songs that include the word death in its title, and it encapsulates all the best things about the album, and therefore all the best things about the Hot Snakes sound: the noise, the swing, and somehow, the surf guitar influence.
The guys in the band should be very proud. This is a tense, frenetic yet enormously enjoyable record. They’ve essentially recorded the sound of pushing back; of, as Nick Cave might put it, kicking against the pricks.
Jericho Sirens is easily the best record of 2018 so far.