After a stellar debut LP, Charcoal Heather (recommended in one of my earlier round-ups of bands you really ought to hear), San Francisco’s Songs For Snakes are back again with their sophomore effort, Year Of The Snake. Released both digitally and, for those of us who prefer our music on vinyl as God intended, a truly nifty blue and white splatter disc whose colors perfectly mirror those of the cover art, making the kind of beautifully cohesive package presentation that can never be achieved with even the highest quality digital download.
That cohesion isn't limited merely to the record’s aesthetics; Songs For Snakes plays as tightly as any band. They are a single unit building shimmering walls of thickly layered sound, in turns grinding and buzzing like Hüsker Dü circa New Day Rising or jangling and humming as R.E.M. might have had they come from anywhere other than the South.
There’s no sophomore jinx here. Year Of The Snake picks up right where Charcoal Heather left off and continues on, expanding outward from that core rather than trying to reach too far above it (the mistake many bands make in delivering a second LP). Sure there are new ideas being tested here, little arty touches that indicate there is more to this band than the rest of what we've heard so far (“4 Way Right Of Way Giveaway” and “Minutes Into Years”), but there is – as they say – something to be said for consistency. They know where their sweet spot is and return to that home base constantly throughout the album. Those hints of other tricks up their sleeve only whet the appetite for future works.
They've obviously studied their cultural touchstones. The aforementioned Hüsker Dü comparison is the most obvious, but damn if that opening guitar riff on the lead off track “Painted Lawns” isn't nicked from The Pixies' playbook (as is their tendency to build songs on the soft-loud-soft blueprint). There’s a lot here that hearkens back to the '90s, but that's not to say it sounds dated or derivative. Rather, it's a present-day wall of sound made by musicians who are old enough to know what was good back then and smart enough to make it work again in a modern setting.
This one is well worth picking up and spending some time with. Here are my personal faves: the previously noted “Painted Lawns,” “A Caffeine Sugar Mean” and the stunning “She Is Not Impressed.”