Hot Snakes / Back Off Cupids

Hot Snakes

Automatic Midnight

Swami

Back Off Cupids

Back Off Cupids

Drunken Fish

Rocket From the Crypt vocalist/guitarist John “Speedo” Reis has been a pretty busy man these days — or so the record bins would make it seem that way. Having just released a RFTC 12″ EP on Flapping Jet this past winter, Reis finds himself occupied with two projects hitting the stores soon: Hot Snakes and Back Off Cupids. In the former, he teams up with Rick Fork, former bandmate in the sorely-missed Drive Like Jehu, and Jason Kourkounis, of Delta 72 and formerly of the also sorely-missed Mule; in the latter, it’s mostly a solo effort, recorded in 1994 but mixed in ’99 — hence, the seem that way bit.

Not too far removed from Reis and Fork’s previous band together, Hot Snakes maintain an art-bent punk aesthetic that doesn’t sacrifice any amount of urgency or intensity for esoterica or overly highbrow ambitions. But whereas Jehu set a mid-’90s trend by building layer upon layer of robotic guitar parts and tension giving way to barely controlled chaos, the Snakes opt for a more direct, barrel-down-the-road drive not unlike the former’s “Bullet Train to Vegas” single. Most obviously, the strongest parallel between the two is Fork’s distinctive vocals, a sore-throated but never-too-anguished yelp that earmarked his previous band as much as their music did. While Automatic Midnight might’ve taken second place to Sonic Youth in their SST days, the record nonetheless stands solid as no-bullshit art-punk in a time when any skinny vegan kid can get away with bashing away at out-of-tune equipment, falling into amps and stuff, and consequently calling it “art.”

Which is rather humorous, considering a good bulk of those same kids were playing fare similar to Back Off Cupid’s eponymous album back in 1994: twinkly emo-rock with subtle shifts in dynamics (now more or less known as “math rock” — ugghh). Which also isn’t to say that Reis doesn’t possess the elan to considerably tweak that idiom out of shape and make it something idiosyncratically his own. And tweak Reis does on Back Off Cupids , taking a style that was trite then and still is now, tipping it over with seesawing chords and bubbly synths, and somehow making it sound semi-modern. But the operative word here is “semi”: much of the mostly instrumental album sounds comparatively dated. I guess that’s what happens when you’re too busy.

Drunken Fish Records, P.O. Box 460640, San Francisco, CA 94146; http://www.sirius.com/~dfr

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