You might think there’s a certain misanthropy built into the Snaex brand. Heck, the cover of 2014’s “The 10,000 Things” features women and children literally giving you the finger. And general loathing of humanity may very well be particularly suited for the times in which we’re living, where it seems too many of our fellows can’t be bothered to see beyond their unmasked noses.
But that Snaex standoffishness, that desire for solitude, has always been balanced with deep and palpable humanity. And how misanthropic can a band be that grows from two members to four over the course of a decade?
Since 2012’s “Creep Down,” Chris Teret and Chriss Sutherland have melded their talents and approaches to create an organic kind of independent folk, mixing Teret’s more straightforward songwriting with Sutherland’s more worldly and experimental inclinations to create a sound that’s often pleasing by being just at the edge of familiar.
With 2018’s “The Word,” however, they grew to a four-piece, adding bassist Tyler Heydolph (who’d already helped out on some singles and an EP) and drummer Tom Rogers, who worked with Sutherland way back in the important indie folk/punk Cerberus Shoal nearly 30 years ago now. Which seems impossible.
And their brand-new “The Nameless and the Named” seems to make it clear that it’s not so much people they’d like to escape from, but the empty culture we’ve created.
“What I wouldn’t give to go back away from this future,” sings Sutherland on “Trying to Unwed from the World Destroying Machine,” in a voice that seems to be deepening as he ages. There is a simple piano, a hazy distortion, a warmth and gravity to balance the cutting nature of the lyrics: “The inexcusable mess that we are leaving/ Has its roots in the world and it is us.”
Sutherland’s contributions as a frontman are marked by this juxtaposition of message and mood. His three “Triptych” tracks, in particular, are intoxicating, infused with a skittering percussion-like Portishead in half-time, and a pleading vocal that begs and finally whispers, “Can you name it?”
It’s primal. An entreaty to examine that feeling in the pit of your stomach that just doesn’t feel quite right. And yet the mood is inviting and comforting.
When Teret’s out front, the sound is more traditional alt-country, often evoking the likes of Jay Farrar, harkening back to dusty front porches and sweeping vistas. “My Old Friend” even has a bit of Camper Van Beethoven at times, with shuffling snares and an electric guitar that shimmers behind Teret’s lilting tenor: “Don’t forget me my old friend/ Though the earth has turned again/ I’ll be with you in the end.”
Even if “the world has gone to hell in the meantime.”
“Bella Ciao” is in the form of a traditional murder ballad, with an Old West shuffle and a chord progression that will make anyone with an acoustic guitar want to pick along. The genre is just about perfect for existential dread: “To win the world, but lose the ability/ To look into, your daughter’s eyes/ One human life, it goes by so quickly.”
Somehow, though, the back and forth between Sutherland and Teret evokes a kind of clear-eyed understanding of the world, rather than a cynicism. They know what they’ve bought into and what they continue to participate in. If you ever come across Teret, though, “selling pizza by the pound,” as he sings in the twang-heavy “Leave Me Alone,” well, “you know I had enough.”
But they haven’t checked out just yet. They haven’t given up. They muddle through, just like the rest of us. The third and final “Triptych” is a rush of serotonin with the opening, easing effortlessly into a bed of sound that wraps its arms around you. This time, “can you name it?” seems less like a challenge and more like an affirmation. I think maybe I can name it. It’s that feeling of being alone, even when surrounded by people. That unease isn’t caused by people, but rather by everything about contemporary life that seems so removed from humanity.
So, “Sing With Me,” entreats Teret in the album’s conclusion, a solitary number filled with hissing atmosphere and electric guitar. “Open your heart and follow me.”
See if you can resist.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 weeks, 5 songs
Fall releases are particularly strong. Make time for some deep exploration:
• Brzowski and C $ Burns, “In Media Res” – This is an absolute evisceration of modern life in the United States, a dark and crushing look at “factory fascism” and “office oligarchy,” with no punches pulled. Along the way, they create a dark and menacing merger of rock and hip-hop that is black-hole dense. Make sure to check out the full work, “The Subjugation of Bread.”
• Love the Work, “Miles Away” – From their self-titled debut record, we get a surf-tinged stomp that mashes together sharp guitars with booming bass and a muttering and grumpy lead vocal. It’s like showing up at the beach to find the waves didn’t show up.
• Dan Sonenberg, “Working for the Man” – The classical composer and Lovers of Fiction frontman releases his first quarantine work, an Elton Johnish piece that sometimes manages to waiver into Zappa territory. “Will you believe us when we tell you you’re through?”
• The Worst, “Lifer” – Classic straight-ahead pop-punk, this is a jam you can pogo to. “Wish I was something I can’t be,” rages Brooke Binion. “And I’m so sorry I can’t be strong, dear.” Seems pretty strong, though.
• ARMZ, “Pastor Covid” – Looking for a crushing takedown of the pastor who officiated the Millinocket wedding? This is it, a classic diss track. “You snide prick, endangering your own community. … I bet it true he’s only in it for the cash he collects.” See if you can find the lie.
— Sam Pfeifle