Reissues are usually a sign that a band has run out of ideas or more specifically, money. But it’s not that San Diego post-hardcore supergroup Hot Snakes are so much after people’s hard earned cash as they are reminding them that they still exist. It’s been a lengthy 14 years since we last heard from the band on a recording level, who have been busy with their primary projects and the inevitable onset of mid-life responsibilities (namely fatherhood).
Hot Snakes have been a serious-yet-uncertain side-prospect of their core members’ main sources of income (Rocket From The Crypt, Sultans, Delta 72, Obits) since the turn of the millennium. Although a constant, geographically logistical nightmare, they have managed to tour extensively in the US and UK, with hard-working band-leader John Reis a guiding light. But the hiatus abruptly ended last November, as the band returned to touring and in 2018 Hot Snakes ride (or is that slither?) again! With Sub Pop signing the band up, they’re putting out the classics and finally gearing up for the release of a long-awaited fourth LP.
But let’s go back to the beginning first and jog our memories – I guess reissues do come in handy. It’s a testament to Hot Snakes’ persistence, that their trio of albums to-date are still just as thrilling and relevant now as they were back then. Most of debut Automatic Midnight (2000) still sounds furious and fun, like a drunken joyride that takes a sudden swerve into hairier terrain. Produced by Reis and released on his infamous Swami label, the album was paraded under the post-hardcore banner, but also took in a healthy dose of garage rock. ‘Light Up The Stars’ is White Denim before they were even a thing, chopping and changing but always packed with a sense of rugged urgency. ‘10th planet’ is a loud and abrasive fist-pump of guitar driven energy, with some wonderfully melodic chord shifts. As an introduction to the band, it’s a very strong one indeed.
2002 follow up Suicide Invoice was a slight change of tone at the time, incorporating more experimental musical elements like organs and melodicas. Unlike its brash predecessor, there are moments of subtlety and slow pace that weren’t there before. You can hear a little Parquet Courts in the wriggling guitars of ‘Paid In Cigarettes’, a band that has clearly been inspired by Hot Snakes underrated genius. For a band who are primarily based in the American West, there’s a definite New York vibe to the melodic phrases and punchy chord progressions. At the time of its release, Suicide Invoice would have been surrounded by the noise of a sudden indie rock boom and you can really tell as it refuses to fully conform. ‘Bye Nancy Boy’ for example, is a simple rock n roll bash, scaring off the preened wannabes with sharp, ragged vocals.
Another two years passed and the band re-grouped again for what would become one final hurrah with 2004’s acclaimed Audit In Progress. Once again the sound had shifted, giving way to the more instinctive nature of their hardcore roots. Opener, ‘Braintrust’ is a ramshackle smattering of big punk riffs and shouted, outlaw vocals that doesn’t compromise the band’s sound in any way. The album never reduces speed and thrashes with an unhinged turbulence similar to their debut. But here, everything is cranked up a notch to quash any signs of complacency. Influences like Suicide and the more torte instrumental elements of previous incarnations like Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu shine through the roughed-up recordings. The emergence of a hardcore indebted new wave has clearly been influenced by this album, with the likes of Pissed Jeans and Fucked Up all taking cues within their chosen musical styles.
With their original holy trinity, Hot Snakes showed that it was possible to maintain momentum despite logistical setbacks. For fans, these releases will be a welcomed nostalgia-trip, but even coming in with fresh ears, the earlier material seems to have aged incredibly well. Maybe that’s a sign of the times too though, as there’s only a handful of genuinely decent new American post-hardcore/punk bands knocking around right now (well, ones that actually give a shit). If that’s truly the case then there’s definitely still room for more tunes from these old road dogs.
Automatic Midnight, Suicide Invoice and Audit In Progress are all re-issued on 19th January through Sub Pop.