Noise An Arts Blog

Album Review: On "It's A Myth," Sneaks get both more mechanical and more playful

As a bouncy synth plucks out the same three notes and a small-kit drum machine skitters along the same playful beat for all three minutes, former MICA student and D.C.-based minimalist Eva Moolchan shifts between speaking and crooning cryptic and elusive poetry ("Set, set, separate! Yeah we divide, yeah we divide in two..."). Like most of Sneaks' new album, "It's A Myth," this highlight, 'Look Like That,' encourages momentum.

The precedents for Sneaks' are clear: ESG's funky bass and whimsical vocalizations, urging you to enter a full-body dance; the post-punk mentality and speed of Pylon. But "It's A Myth" is both more mechanical and more playful. It's like bobbing your head on the dance floor with a spirited android who grooves hard yet retains a mesmeric stare.

"It's A Myth" contrasts with Sneaks' previous self-titled release (put out in 2015 by D.C. label Sister Polygon Records and then reissued with added tracks as "Gymnastics" on Moolchan's current label, Merge Records, in 2016) where the songs were even more sparse and sketch-like.

'Devo' elaborates on the bass-centric music of Sneaks' past while still running just one minute and forty-one seconds long. The bass guitar is fast and beefy, and when Moolchan allows the notes to ring at the chorus, you can't help but slide from side-to-side—or maybe just drive 20 mph above the speed limit. The song ends with one of Moolchan's many odd rhythmic riddles before the song's sudden cut off: "Plastic dinosaurs in hot dog buns / Strawberries strategically placed / Woop!"

It's peak Sneaks.

While it can be hard to derive clear meaning from these songs, Moolchan's spoken word is lively, with syllabic vocalizations that interact and syncopate smoothly, another rhythmic idea skipping through the tracks. These songs are seemingly nonsensical but it feels more like they're just out of reach, and that there's meaning and clear targets that just aren't clear to us but very clear to Moolchan. 'Hair Slick Back' is full of feelings of confidence and anger: "You think you got a lot to say / No, you think you need a bigger stage / You think I can't contain my rage / Let me see you bend your brakes." "It's A Myth" does pack 10 tracks into a cool 18 minutes, so there's little time to decipher the lyrics—they just kind of hit you on a visceral level. Though there is enough repetition to get you lost in its world and driving bass that automates nodding heads.

On 'PBNJ,' the flexibility of this spare approach to songwriting—with some help from producer Mary Timony—is potent: Moolchan's voice is church-hall reverberated for a hypnotic and distant sound, until the bass enters with a choppy rhythm, and suddenly Moolchan is close and clear right there with you.

Moolchan has described Sneaks as a character, but who is Sneaks? Mystery surrounds "It's A Myth," with Moolchan's ambiguous lyrics and puzzling album artwork, which depicts the combination "1Q9" on the front and back cover. Maybe this relates to 'Not My Combination' when Moolchan softly whispers "tic-tac-toe, three in a row, not my combination"? And why the hell would plastic dinosaurs be in hot dog buns? What you're left with still is Sneaks as driving force, the playful and monophonic android rocking at the club, and you can rock along too, even if it sounds like Sneaks doesn't care whether you do or not.

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