More than ever, even last year's lovely album In the Heart of the City, Christopher Teret and Chriss Sutherland have stretched their individual personas into true foils. As musicians whose prior vessels had more to do with escape and exploration — Sutherland with the amorphous, freak-folk carnival act Cerberus Shoal from 1995 to 2007, and Teret, who hails from Baltimore, with his post-punk group Company — the barebones earnestness of Snaex is one of the group's principle appeals.
It's the musical equivalent of radical honesty. And just like living a radically honest life, it can be fantastic — provided you have the proper dosage and setting. On Holy Times, the two conspire toward a humility, understanding, and vulnerability toward the real-ass issues of their day-to-day lives — as fathers, partners, thoughtful citizens, and lifelong fighters who have mouths to feed. And they've got a new bassist, Tyler Heydolph, in tow, loosening the valves as the two guitarists steer through this slow, steady, lyrical folk.
Deep thinkers indeed, the six-song EP finds Teret and Sutherland forging an even deeper peace with the joys and terrors attendant to that trait. Track three, "Grumblin'," revisits a highlight of Sutherland's 2008 album Me in a "Field", finding the ballad capable of soaring once its been trimmed of its old mournful weight. Snaex's version adds a slight tempo bump and gentle rollicking melody as Sutherland's lyrics flutter with a feeling of ease and forgiving wisdom, updating lyrics that a decade ago felt desolate and mournful. "All timeless and now it's gone / like when we were old and young / my life cycles and to return / a certain balance I attempt to earn / and I'm lucky o'this I know / given chances and place to grow / try, try, and try again."
By contrast, Teret's delivery is staid and workmanlike, born from the lineage of affectless indie-rock and post-punk vocalists who left their expressiveness to the squall of their guitars. On "There Are No Blues," the album's lowlit redeemer, his cadence seems borrowed from Irish folk songs and sea shanties, with an American candor so bald and unflinching as to nearly ironize his lyrics. "There are no blues that you can't handle / there's still mysteries for sure / but there are no women in the lobby / and no children by the door. There are no blues I heard you say / there are no blues that haunt my days. / There are no blues, there are no blues."
Teret's post-punk vocabulary is also one that Sutherland has himself learned. (It's incredible to contrast his lyrical styles today to, say, those of the shy and anguished teen on Cerberus Shoal's remarkable 1996 album And Farewell to Hightide.) But his tracks on Holy Times glimmer with the many voices he's learned since, like those forged during Cerberus' chaotic trek through the desperate ecstasy and babbling dream-poetry of their final years, his work as a devoted pupil of Lorca's concept of duende, and the grounded flamenco-folk of Portland's seven-piece music and dance group Olas.
Through some sort of chicanery, some trick of the light perhaps, Teret and Sutherland perform these admittedly dour-seeming passages with a steady clarity and joy. The tracks are profoundly adult, yes. But these are, after all, a couple of dads, and you can almost hear how much practice they get singing to children.
While listeners won't find Snaex discovering any sort of bright light their album title implies, the sincerity with which they explore the mysterious of today's world — "white privilege, the cult of busy-ness, the fumbling of men," among others — proves more worthwhile than any orthodox religious exploration. Nevertheless, these are wondrous affirmations they're sharing. I'm sure their sons and daughters will learn them.
Holy Times | By Snaex | With Micah Blue Smaldone at Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | 8 p.m. | $8 adv, $12 ($6 children) | mayostreetarts.org
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