San Diego hardcore-meets-garage-punk powerhouse Hot Snakes have returned after 14 years of deafening studio silence.
The musical partnership of guitarists John Reis and Rick Froberg has always yielded visceral, cutting edge, post-hardcore with a distinct sense of urgency. Through their early days in post-hardcore bands like Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu, the frantic nature of the band’s live performances translated beautifully on to record, a feat not often accomplished by their contemporaries. The duo took a halt in the mid 90s as Reis dialed in on his early rock and roll influences in the band Rocket From the Crypt. Naturally, as all great partnerships do, Froberg and Reis reconvened around the turn of the millenium to combine these two influences into their tightest, most primal project yet; Hot Snakes released three impeccable records from 1999 to 2004, playing intermittently since 2011.
Some way, some how, I always knew this moment was on the horizon. Reis and Froberg’s individual projects have always been rooted in 1960s garage rock and protopunk, so it seemed only natural that they should reconvene as Hot Snakes for at least one more batch of songs. But, when Drive Like Jehu toured in 2016 and this superfan got the chance to see their brand of post-hardcore live in Philly, I was perfectly content with that, and nothing more. And yet, news broke a year later that Hot Snakes had signed to Sub Pop and had a record ready to release in 2018. Always pay close mind to your instincts, kids.
As with any so-called “reunion” record, I headed into this album with a fair degree of skepticism. I shouldn’t have.
The record’s great—like, really great; Outstanding. From 2004 to 2018, the band did not lose a single drop of energy or cohesion. It helps that nearly all the musicians in the band have been playing together since 2011.
The new album, “Jericho Sirens,” is by any account a pretty typical record for Hot Snakes as far as sound goes. Luckily, it’s a sound that never grows old to my ears. The record begins with “I Need a Doctor,” a subsonic, vehement tune with an introductory set of chords that harken back to material off the band’s first album, “Automatic Midnight.” Reis’ descending, dissonant phrase in the verse reminds me much of his Drive Like Jehu riffage. The dissonance does not relent with the next song, “Candid Cameras,” perhaps my favorite song off the album. With this tune, the group shows off their tendencies toward odd time signatures as well as rhythms more interesting than what is typically expected in punk music. Mario Rubalcaba’s drums and Reis’ guitar are tighter than ever before, hammering out sixteenth notes in sync, emulating a machine gun.
“Why Don’t It Sink In?” could sound like an old Drive Like Jehu B-side with the right amount of distortion. The intensity of the track is reminiscent of much of the band’s previous album, “Audit in Progress,” and lasts about as long as it takes a tsunami to completely rip up the seashore.
The album’s two lead singles, “Death Camp Fantasy” and “Six Wave Hold Down,” acted as great tasters for the album, but did not necessarily give away all of what the record had to offer. The primordial chant of “Have I been prayed[sic] upon?” in the former track adds further proof that this is Reis and Froberg at their most primal, as well as their most fun. Froberg’s guitar embellishments and lackadaisical vocal style on the latter track gives the record a nice surf flavor, complementing the album cover quite well.
The title track shows Hot Snakes effectively wearing some of their influences on their sleeves; Reis’ riff is clearly a nod to one of punk’s most influential yet overlooked guitarists, Greg Sage. Sage’s group The Wipers have been a huge inspiration to the sound of Froberg and Reis’ music ever since the beginning, with Reis taking note from Sage’s more understated riffs on this song. This song also remarks the return of the band’s use of the melodica, the band previously using the instrument on “I Hate The Kids” off of 2002’s “Suicide Invoice.”
“Having Another?” is another instance on this album that proves that these musicians are no strangers to technical complexity. While the guitar and bass begin with a phrase in 6/8, the drums play in 6/4, making for not only another propulsive tidal wave of a Hot Snakes song, but a polyrhythmic one at that. And with this track, it was fully clear to me that I never should have doubted this record for a second.
Although it’s still early in the year, as we’re not even a quarter of the way through it just yet, I can already tell that this is one of the best records this year will have to offer. The undying energy and visceral performances from Hot Snakes never cease to blow my mind whenever I decide to turn them on, and, in 2018, we’re lucky enough to not have to be limited to those first three records. Just like their earlier releases, this is a flawless album, and unlike many “reunion records,” this falls in perfectly with the rest of their catalogue. Could this be the best rock record of the year? Who knows. I still haven’t heard the new Guided By Voices record, so we’ll see.
Gabe Sagherian is a student majoring in communication studies. ✉ GS889554@wcupa.edu.