There’s a special difficulty in reviewing a record that’s not clearly within the bounds of music that you enjoy, a record that, subjectively speaking, you don’t really like. The devil on my right shoulder (who has long since torched the cherub on my left), always wants me to pry open my cans of weaponized sass. I’m going to go out on a limb here and reveal the dirty little secret of music criticism: cruelty is fun. When I hate a record, I laugh like a badly drawn villain, clicking away at my keyboard and smirking at those glossy press photos that make their unintended victims look wind tunneled and covered and pork chop grease all at the same time. But that’s really only fun if the target is some big pop star, deepthroated in undeserved praise generated by witless scribes who guiltlessly describe people like Jennifer Lopez as “brilliant” rather than the more appropriate: a pez dispenser of garish, softcore evil. When it’s just some group of some hard working musicians plying their trade, the guilt backlash from an off-handed slam is nearly instantaneous. In the interests of resurrecting my conscience, I’m going to try to give you a vitriol-free description of the Snitches album, Star Witness without resorting to unnecessary insult. Though some minor clawing is indeed part and parcel.
The Snitches definitely seem to subscribe to the punk rock aesthetic of if you can break something, you can pick up a microphone. The impish draw and simultaneous downside of the vocals is that they frequently sound like a carload of friends screaming along to one of their radio favorites. On tracks like “Right Before My Eyes”, which sounds like the Flamin’ Groovies , the effect is to make you want to sing along and break your voice off on the notes you can’t hit. On the Ben Folds Five inflected “Wednesdays on my Mind”, the singing clots the song and makes for an uncomfortable karaoke-like experience.
Although Star Witness has a fair share of breadth, most of the songs stomp around the punk-lite ground of bands like Blink 182, Everclear, and a much more sugary Get-Up Kids. Though I’m sure they would bruise at the idea of such a grouping, for my buck, the album has the same indistinguishably kinda loud, kinda rowdy vibe. My favorite moments on Star Witness, are those that seem to be cribbing from older muscle pop acts. “December 21” is a dirty chord rawker that would have made a great Cheap Trick single. You certainly can’t fault the Snitches for lack of energy. Of course, that’s one of the reasons that this genre of music tends to tax my attention span and remind me entirely too much of volleyball nets. Almost every song sounds anthemic in form. It’s like being trapped in a room with cheerleaders trying to find an hour’s worth of different ways to choreograph school spirit. “Pinkie Standing”, “Willie”, and “In My Head” all follow the formulaic but ultimately toe-tapping form of the up tempo pop punk. That said, there are probably millions of people who would adore every single note.
Many might be inclined to pool this record within the incoming garage rock tide. Unfortunately, Star Witness veers entirely too strongly toward pop rock without bringing along any of the raw energy and crotchy melody of the Strokes, the White Stripes or even that Decaf Nirvana, the Vines. While the faster songs have the benefit of kinetic punch, the slower numbers like “Swallow” are wholly inexplicable, wandering dirges. Scott Moodie’s vocals fare worst on these tracks where he sounds like that wet haired depressant from Creed whose name I absolutely refuse to look up. “Crazy Talking Girl” is similarly formless, a song dropped quietly on someone noodling with their guitar that is almost entirely the title repeated in various tequila-soaked inflections. Though these tracks are a welcome reprieve of tempo, they seem far less ably constructed, like some sort of “one for the ladies” gesture tossed in before last call.
The other night I had one of my regularly-scheduled wine and gab sessions with one of my best friends who also happens to be a musician and filmmaker in LA. I told her that I felt guilty for ripping on stuff I didn’t like. With all the sooty ennui of an LA native, she chuckled. She reminded me that some of the biggest hiss kittens about what’s good and what’s not in the music world are musicians. Some of them can barely get through interviews without slamming things that they find inauthentic and not-so-subtly backbiting acts they tour with. Then she waxed philosophical about the perils and expectations one should have about putting something out in public. If you don’t want people to smack at it, keep it to yourself. If someone hates what you do, fuck ‘em, hang out with and draw energy from the people who get what you’re making and love the fact that you’re making it. Sage advice. I’d like to pass it along to the Snitches and the head bobbing fans who most likely cram pack their live concerts. Now then, I can comfortably return to the loving embrace of my many-bladed bitchery.
// Notes from the Road
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