Chris Teret and Chriss Sutherland's new collaboration, Snaex (say it as "snakes"), is just about everything I'd have hoped the two would put together, going by their past history with indie folk/rock (Teret's solo work and Company) and innovative multi-genre, multi-ethnic explorations (Sutherland's Cerberus Shoal, Fire on Fire, and Olas). Their first release, Creep Down, is stripped-down, but not simplistic, mixing in a variety of guitar tones and distortions and writing styles. And all in time for Record Store Day this weekend. They alternate lead vocals and mix up the way they harmonize. They are impeccably tasteful and elegant in their delivery, like sonic Xanax with their ability to create a serene cognizance (that's a high compliment; I like pharmaceuticals).
All of it is recorded in a live and intimate way that makes you feel like you're sitting right there in front of them, legs crossed, staring intently (or eyes closed — however you roll). Your head is the mic in the middle of the room. Everything is so silent that you can hear both the ringing of the strings on the guitar and then, just a touch later, the way the sounds spring out of the amplifier.
It makes for a grippingly emotional "I'm Living It" as opener, where you empathize with every one of Sutherland's inflections. I knew within about 30 seconds I was likely to listen to this record many, many times.
When things get loud, as when the vocals rise in "This Cup," the input overloads and things get crunchy. Speakers object. On "O.K.," the distortion on the amp seems to overwhelm all, obfuscating what becomes a thrillingly head-bobbing chorus on their most rocking tune. It's like the folk version of the Black Keys, but the recording, the capturing of the music, seems only good enough. Is there a way to bring the vocals and the individually plucked strings to the front to emphasize the melody?
It's obviously a sign of their inherent talent that I want a better way to hear them. I'm going to have to choose between seeing them at Mayo Street and catching Spose at Empire, which sucks. It's easy to just revel in the closeness and the touching sentiment of a song like "It's Like Magic at This Point," where you feel like you don't need to know Spanish to feel the power of Sutherland's emotion. But when Teret coughs twice during the melancholic and plaintive "Part of Her," is that really the way they wrote it? They couldn't do another take? On one hand I appreciate the moment-in-time, a snapshot-of-the-art-in-progress quality of the recording, but I hear those coughs and that lyric, "I had no idea what I was after . . . I lost my direction . . . and I never touched a part of her," and I wonder, do these little things get in the way?
Do they set up small barriers between listeners and Snaex's music?
Perhaps this is what Sutherland and Teret are referencing when they mention in their brief bio "the post-modern time crunch." It is what it is because that's all there was. Which leaves me, I guess, both thankful that people can still find time to create the likes of this and disappointed that there just wasn't time (and money, probably) to make it the best it could have been.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CREEP DOWN | Released by Snaex | on Eternal Otter Records | with Tom K | at Mayo Street Arts, in Portland | April 20 | eternalotterrecords.bandcamp.com/album/creep-down