By Christine Leonard
When you’ve been kicking around the indie rock scene as long as influential punk rock singer/guitarist/visual artist Rick Froberg (Obits, Pitchfork, et al.) there aren’t too many ‘firsts’ left to conquer. But, here’s where things get interesting. After fourteen years apart Froberg’s gettin’ the old band back together. He’s on a mission from Sub Pop and he’s not taking ‘No!’ for an answer. Reamalgamating the acclaimed group he formed back in 2000 with fellow former Drive Like Jehu bandmate John Reiss (also of Rocket From The Crypt), Froberg has emerged with the ‘first’ new Hot Snakes album in fourteen years and on a new record label to boot!
A long-awaited return from the garage punk legends, Jericho Sirens (Sub Pop) was recorded over the course of 2017 between the Hot Snakes’ home range in San Diego and a stint in Philadelphia. A self-produced effort that reunites Froberg and Reis with bassist Gar Wood and drummers Jason Kourkounis and Mario Rubalcaba, Jericho Sirens fulfills the promises made on the band’s first three albums; Automatic Midnight (2000), Suicide Invoice (2002) and Audit in Process (2004). It’s worth noting that all three of these earlier LPs, which were originally under the Swami Records label, have been reissued on coloured vinyl this past January thanks to Sub Pop.
Let it be known, Hot Snakes has shed its dry winter skin and has emerged shinier and more watertight than ever. A year spent shaking off the rust by touring live has left the veteran punk-rockers limber and supple enough to execute some pretty gnarly manoeuvers. Dropping into surf-fresh material with the frenetic opener “I Need a Doctor,” they echo The Ramones pharmaceutical plea with a nerve and string jangly jitteriness that sets the whole album off on a tear. The tremulous tantrum continues with “Candid Camera” planting sonic sinkholes along the path to a perilous “Death Camp Fantasy” shore. Foam-flecked epithets are hurled like stones and some of them really smart when they strike home.
Picking up the already maddening pace, Hot Snakes crash through bramble patches of extreme rawness, as on “Why Don’t It Sink,” then pull a complete switch-foot and drop into a barrel of the smoothest most sophisticated punk ‘n’ roll with “Six Wave Hold Down” and the album’s hypermobile title track. A half-dozen breakers under the influence of Hot Snakes’ hot-and-cold swell should be enough to drown the worst of your sorrows. Or, so Froberg and Reiss would lead you believe. Their conviction cannot be doubted as they throw themselves headlong into heavy hitters like “Have Another” with its angular guitar angst and angry insistence. “You’re screwed!” Froberg repeatedly howls as his bandmates relentlessly pursue him with surging strings and militarized percussion.
Doubling down on the ecstatic dirge “Death Doula,” the entire group scribbles their love mark on the park bench behind your favourite pizza joint. Maybe your adolescence wasn’t all that remarkable, but listening to the taut threads that run through the brattish “Psychoactive” and delinquent gestures of “Death of a Sportsman,” you can certainly repeal that shortcoming with a serious dose of Hot Snakes’ vicarious cool.
Final word, you don’t have to see the cover photo of bassist/surfdawg Gar Wood tube-riding to pick up on Jericho Sirens’ wild and free Wet Coast vibe, but you do have to wonder how Hot Snakes manage to get the salt stains out of their leather jackets.