Destination: Unknown

In today’s ever-changing musical landscape, it’s not too often that a band can make a name for itself before releasing an album without churning out cookie-cutter garbage.

In today’s ever-changing musical landscape, it’s not too often that a band can make a name for itself before releasing an album without churning out cookie-cutter garbage. There was a time in musical history when bands could garner great hype before cutting wax, but that time is long since gone. That said, it baffles the mind how Connecticut-based something-trio Snake Oil has managed to gain a little bit of following before this, their self-titled debut LP.

It’s difficult to place a finger on just what kind of music Snake Oil truly makes. As a music journalist though, this is my job, so here goes: Snake Oil delivers the post-jazz-psych-electro-funk-drone-synthpop goods on this, their eponymous freshman outing.

Now, that hodgepodge genre assignation—it’s not for a lack of musical experience. I’ve been doing this for quite a while. With that said, each of the songs on Snake Oil’s debut shares one common thread: there are no vocals. That’s OK however, because the music found on the record is so dense that a voice layered over the top would wreck the whole thing—too many cooks and all that.

The music, though certainly original, would find itself happy nestled in between Bonobo and Bibio on a fall playlist. Instruments ranging from an expertly EQ’d bass guitar to dueling Rhodes pianos to several flavors of percussion intermingle with great ease. A lot of the guitar work on the record calls to mind bands like Low or even Germany’s Can at times. On tracks like the opening jam, “I Was a Total Pyro,” the music presents a mood that’s tough to place a finger on quite specifically. However, the overall aesthetic is the same—this is jam music.

Now, I don’t mean that as a derogatory term like some people do, but this music does seem very jam-oriented. Rather than a focused performance by a band with real intentions, at times Snake Oil can just seem a little too lost in the groove. This is especially evident on tracks like “Footprints” and “Jung Greezy”—the music seems to meander and not really go anywhere, which lends a very background-y vibe to it—not exactly impressive.

However, fans of deep grooves should be more than pleased with Snake Oil, as this record has them in spades. Any experienced jazz (or even nu-jazz) listener will at once recognize a “dry drum and wet bass” ensemble comprising Snake Oil’s rhythm section. The bass is so expertly produced that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the bassist noodling not more than a few feet from you. And trust me, if you’re a participant in the kind of recreational activities that mesh with listening to this kind of music, it shouldn’t be that hard to imagine sometimes.

Certain tracks like “Echo Center” are perfectly suited to paying a visit to Mr. Greenjeans, and with the one-two punch of this and the previously mentioned meandering “Footprints,” you may be raving about it with your friends well after the smoke halo dissipates.

Of course, there are certain songs that stand out above the rest. “Base Camp” is a great track, where the focus is more on writing a delightful song rather than losing half the audience with resin-encrusted dense jamming.

Snake Oil’s real downfall is that the record, while well crafted, all too often tightropes the thin line between smoky stoner jams and forgettable background music. I had to listen to the entire record three times in a row before anything would really stick, and furthermore, the songs are without any real lasting power shortly thereafter.

The record is decent and full of great imagery (particularly the aforementioned “Base Camp,” “Seidel in the Salt Flats” and especially the last track, “Travels Light,” which may be the best on the record) but once turned off, the mind wanders elsewhere. Perhaps this is the downfall of too much density in songwriting; the mind is overwhelmed and unresponsive, even when the music tries desperately to get inside. ?