Photo by Jennifer Kearns
One of the longest running bands in Portland, the Rattlesnakes have had awhile to build up some trust. Formed in Farmington in 2006, the group have experimented with numerous configurations over the years, settling recently into a fine, full-sounding five-piece (co-songwriters Brian and Tara Cohen, the band’s respective guitarist and singer, were juggling their roles in the band long before getting married in 2010). Permanent fixtures on some of the city’s loudest, grubbiest rock bills, if they’ve been a punk group these past few years it’s been in name only, tending more toward psych-garage tones and obscure lyrical obsessions while largely eschewing fast tempos, as if the inevitable drift from punk rock necessitates — mainstream appeal not an option, of course — a move toward inscrutability, detached irony, and an ethos of apathy.
What they’ve done with Get Your Fill then is significant. The ‘Snakes fifth album is, in a very real way, a return to form. But more importantly, it also stakes out a viable way forward for this adult rock band (which seemed lately to be backburnered in favor of the Cohens’ stripped-down side project Fur). An album of high energy, heightened cohesion, and Tara Cohen’s best, most melodic vocal performances to date, the punkness of Get Your Fill isn’t confined to volume and tempo, but the willingness to explore the minutiae of living a creative adult life. Over 12 songs, the album exposes seemingly mundane moments with care, deference, wit, and gratitude — without obscuring the institution of punk rock as a vessel for getting there.
One of the genre’s unyielding limitations is its empty rhetoric, its canned exhortations and faux-revolutionary formalisms. So it’s the songs where the Rattlesnakes get most daringly specific that stand out most, finding inspiration from the quotidian aspects of Portland social life, being in a band, and making art. On “My Two Brians,” a song referencing both Cohen and second guitarist Brian Houdlette, Tara lays out the labors each exact on the group’s song ideas. On the hardcore blast “Spliff City,” the subject’s a day of intensely hiking local mountain peaks, letting the dog take the lead when things get too cloudy. And opening scorcher “Bad Thing,” a song ostensibly about self-restraint and maturity, contains a tellingly poker-faced maxim: “the only mystery / is the lack of mystery / I reveal my hand / and it’s just an ordinary hand.”
Get Your Fill also demonstrates the full arrival of Houdlette, who joined the ‘Snakes prior to the recording of Spine in a period of acclimation which might account for that record’s thin guitar production and relative midtempo pace. His presence here makes the ’Snakes fiercer and fuller, the songs driven equally by Tara’s increasingly capacious vocals, a more propulsive guitar section, and the subsequently rejuvenated rhythm section. Their commitment to the frenetic final measures of the excellent “New Rocky Theme” elevates the track to one of the album’s best, while both bassist and Greg Bazinet and drummer Mike Cunnane each bring a tremendous amount of color to the trebly guitar stabs of “Last Outpost.”