Friday, April 29, 2011

Track Review: Snowman - "Hyena"

When a band announces its breakup prior to the release of their newest record, one of two types of albums tend to result: 1) a document of two distinct yet conflicting minds (see: Spacemen 3’s Recurring [1991]), or 2) a grand reconciliation of all the band’s prior artistic concerns, melded into one final, single-minded testament (see: Yellow Swans’ Going Places [2010]). It remains to be seen where Absence will fall for Snowman—the Australian expatriates whose members have, since the release of their brooding, underrated 2008 record, The Horse, the Rat, and the Swan, been splitting time between London, Iceland, and various regions of the UK—but in any case this dispersal has led the band to amicably agree on disbandment rather than attempt any sort of cross-continental collaboration.

With their fate sealed, Snowman look to have taken the opportunity to wrap up their career in purposeful fashion. In an interview earlier this year with Life is Noise, frontman Jon McKee promised an album “creamier and dreamier than the last…still rhythmically driven, but also awash in textural walls of sound.” For fans of The Horse, the Rat, and the Swan, this seems to hint towards an increased focus (and perhaps elaboration) on that record’s tense midsection, where the mind-flaying riffs of the bookending tracks folded in on a sequence of tribal, séance-like repetition. In other words, their most Liars-esque side. And while their Australian roots won’t do much to alleviate these comparisons in the wake of their demise, the band has consistently dropped records between each of their more well-regarded compatriots’ releases, which in a weird way has elevated Snowman albums while satiating listeners such as myself who could do with a bit more of these clanging, atmospheric sonic explorations that these bands specialize in.

Unlike Liars and their current string of blunt, standalone singles, however, “Hyena” feels like a quintessential album track. Built around dramatic choral vocals and turbulent undercurrents of flanged guitar and indigenous percussion, the track crests and recedes in a fashion typical of many album-conscience segues. The track’s movements are so clearly delineated and its dynamics so forcefully punctuated, however, that this hardly matters. In fact, it actually bodes well for Absence, as Snowman’s greatest attribute over their short career has been their ability to build momentum and gravity across the length of a full album. As the second piece in Absence‘s eight track sequence, “Hyena” has the potential to bridge some pretty galvanic highs. But left alone it’s still rousing and hypnotic in the contradictory manner that Snowman has, from the beginning, attempted to build its legacy upon. [CMG]

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