Living with Snaex
Giving the finger to a time of moral crisis
There’s something kind of thrilling about the cover to the second Snaex record. Check it out:
On that black and white cover of The 10,000 Things, Chriss Sutherland’s and Christopher Teret’s wives give us the finger, in unison, while their toddlers sit in their laps, even nurse. Their eyes are darkened, making them menacing, but their mouths are set in something more like determination. A mix of that classic Johnny Cash shot and, well, Duccio’s “Madonna and Child.”
And it’s all a big fuck you to what? Us? Sutherland and Teret’s lingering dreams of making music for others to consume? Society at large?
How about the almighty, himself?
It’s hard not to draw that conclusion after the slow rock of “Most High,” with its crunchy electric guitars propping up a series of lyrics that paint a domestic picture of faith that’s been shaken: “There’s a meal in the oven / And there’s a baby on my knee … And nobody lives in the sky/ But I try to walk in the path of the most high.”
That’s Teret (you’ve heard him in Company), whose delivery is lower down and more precise in the enunciation than Sutherland’s, so that the song resonates right through your gut.
Sutherland, instead, has a keen that’s more piercing, mimicked in “Words” by a pinging guitar tone that etches out a sparse melody in the break. It pushes past the limiters and distorts in the headphones just as Sutherland seems to spiral through emotions: “I am something incomplete / That complains constantly / In here words make me alone / And out there I don’t matter at all.”
Of course, these guys matter as much as anyone, locally, plying as they do any manner of outsider forms and structures. Sutherland has been consistently important since Cerberus Shoal in the 1990s, and his joining with Teret makes for a folk that’s edgy and unnerving in all the right ways.
Especially with the remixing of three tunes from the debut Snaex album, Creep Down, from 2012. With the Ugly Facade adding ghosts of digitized beats and bass kicks to what began as stripped down acoustic pieces recorded live, they are given detachment, like Sutherland and Teret are just along for the ride. “Come Clean” is maybe the most distilled of these efforts, coming in at 3:33 and seemingly built for a radio station that doesn’t exist (or, rather, WMPG), full of harmony and a pulsing intensity: “It’s not their fault they need to feed their little ones.”
Further pushing your emotional buttons are a series of vignettes, samples accompanied by distant and muted piano, that stand up for the downtrodden. “At the End of the Day” is terrifically disturbing, with some CNN bobblehead using that most meaningless of clichés to introduce the fact that it’s “simply a question of whether Israel gets tired of continuing to bomb a civilian population.”
Ya know, like the whole Palestinian conflict ends with Netanyahu one day turning to Rivlin and declaring: “I’m bored. Let’s go do something else.”
And then there is Martin Luther King, Jr., agreeing with Dante in “When Silence Is Betrayal”: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” With so much commercial music today trying desperately to be morally vanilla, Snaex are more than welcome in their button-pushing.
Cutting most to the quick, though, is Sutherland’s “Daddy,” an exploration of his relationship with his father, done with a pop melody that cuts through distorted electric guitar: “It was hard, the way you left us that day.” There’s a rolling fingerstyle guitar, a reticent snare, and a naked regret.
“In me is a piece of you,” Sutherland wails, “I spring from us in the other direction / I fear us and our lost connection.”
And through it all, those babies stare out from the record’s sleeve, a reminder of the dad Sutherland has a chance to be, even if the world is full of bullshit you’d rather not have your kid muddle through. “We don’t talk about heaven,” Teret sings on the closing cover of Lucinda Williams’s “Blue,” an organ bleeding through, “we don’t talk about hell.” Instead, we live in the moment and do the best we can with what we have.