Hot Snakes are a band that (sans a brief reunion a few years ago) did little for a few years. Now they are active once more and are surfing their way through our lives with Jericho Sirens. As it has been over a decade since their last album, do Hot Snakes still have what it takes to deliver, or do they need to go back into hibernation?
The album does not take long to start; a guitar riff that lasts about five seconds before every other instrument and the vocals enter. Hot Snakes saw no need to spend much (if any) time announcing that they were indeed back. Rather than having a track that could be seen as throwaway, “I Need a Doctor” is as urgent and worthwhile as the rest of the album.
Like “I Need a Doctor”, the rest of Jericho Sirens is full of angular, rhythmic playing. There is a bit of dissonance balancing the harmony throughout and the tempo is usually kept fast. These combine with a dry sound, leading to many of the songs having an abrasive, frantic and (sometimes) aggressive feel.
This is best exemplified in the chaotic “Why Don’t It Sink In” but this is just one example. “Candid Cameras” is intense without going full blast. “Death Doula,” whilst slightly weaker than the rest of the album still hits hard and furiously.
Roughly around the middle Jericho Sirens relaxes a little. The songs slow down slightly and embrace more melody whilst retaining a hard hit. If the album had sped the whole way through, it would have been fatiguing. Thankfully there is enough of an ebb to prevent that when the album picks up again.
Around the middle is where the title track features. Whilst a little more restrained, it is no less expressive and uses swagger and swing to keep its momentum going. The instruments focus on the drive and the melody of the song whilst retaining their impact. “Jericho Sirens” could have been an afterthought. Instead the song sees as much care and consideration regarding how it fits with the others. This helps strengthen the middle section and by extension the flow of the album.
Although not as urgent as “I Need a Doctor”, “Death of a Sportsman” works well as a closer. Slowing down a little and using more melody, it draws in much of the sounds of the previous songs. There is less chaos and intensity but “Death of a Sportsman” is still driven and focused. It ends when it needs to and does not waste a second. There is no big ending to it either; just a few seconds of grooving on a beat which then comes to a sudden stop.
The lyrics seem to mostly express frustration regarding varying issues but they are vague rather than direct and thus may have to do with simpler things. Writing lyrics in a vague manner can be a bad thing due to their ease of expressing pretentious leanings. On Jericho Sirens they work well due to a use of direct language. This leads to a stronger sense of imagery more appropriate for the songs. Another upside is that there is enough room to think about the meaning of the lyrics without them coming off as pretentious. Matched with great vocal conviction and bite, the lyrics have no less impact than the songs they inhabit.
In the time Hot Snakes were away, there was been plenty of time to improve on the blueprints established for this kind of music. Whilst there have been some good albums that shake things up, Jericho Sirens blows many of them out of the water. It is refreshing, believable, effortless and focused. On top of that, Hot Snakes sound much more energised than many younger artists. Jericho Sirens is an album that does much more with less, ensuring that every part counts. The songs are as long as they need to be and flow well. The payoff to all of this an excellent album that consistently delivers the whole way through.
Jericho Sirens is located here.