There’s an awkwardness when you reconnect with the “cool kids” of your past. And I should specify that I’m going off my own definition of “cool kids.” I’m talking about the grimey nonchalance of the people who would smoke cigs in the parking lot, blare Dead Kennedys records from their makeshift tour bands and spoke like disaffected demigods who’d already seen it at all. Time has a funny way of warping perspective and seeing someone 15 years later can distort that mental image you had of them in their prime – making you wonder, “were they ever that cool after all?” But then there’s the exception. The people who only get cooler as time goes on and when you run into them at the grocery store years later, you’re still awestruck by their entire ethos. San Diego post-hardcore outfit Hot Snakes definitely exist within that eternally awesome territory and prove it with Jericho Sirens, their first album in 14 years out now via Sub Pop Records.
“Comeback records” are a tricky thing. When you’ve been away for so long, how do you reintroduce yourself back into the music landscape? Hot Snakes don’t bother semantics and kick down the front door right away with opener “I Need A Doctor.” You can almost visualize the band barging in, bloodied and manic screaming at you to grab the stitches kit so they can patch up their own wounds. Lead vocalist Rick Froberg sounds more invigorated than ever before. His voice shakes and howls, pummeling itself against the flurry of riffs and holding his own in the crossfire. Every word he spits from his mouth feels like a call to arms. The raucous “Death Camp Fantasy” channels Fun House era Iggy Pop as he drones the tattered ends of his voice, shouting “Have I been preyed upon?”
None of these praises for the band’s energy should be a surprise to fans, given the violent rushes of past masterworks like Audit in Progress and Suicide Invoice. But the way the band manages to sneak-in melodic notions amongst the chaos proves to be their secret weapon on Jericho Sirens. Furious anthems like “Having Another?” could easily indulge itself in its own mayhem, but the band manages to sneak in hooks within John Reis’ sensational, adrenaline inducing lead guitar lines. It’s a testament to the band’s initial prowess but also the wisdom they’ve gained in their time away. They know they’ve still got it to rip a venue to shreds, but how do you build upon a legacy like that? Jericho Sirens ups the ante by forcing themselves to keep the songs quick, brutalistic, yet still contained enough that the songs don’t lose their audience. All that to say, it’s maybe the band’s catchiest album to date and in no way is that a bad thing.
Jericho Sirens is a shining example of how to do a comeback right. Maybe they were thinking about all of this, maybe not. And if not, that’s even better. To hear a band that’s been so beloved and mythologized over the years return in such a way is testament to the fact that, yes, they were always this good. It’s that “cool guy” ingrained in your memory with the van, swerving back into the parking lot, stepping out of the driver seat while taking a drag of their cig and asking – to no one in particular – “So, what’d I miss?"
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