Sometimes an album is not so much an album as an intriguing plot twist. Previously on Snapped Ankles, in 2017’s debut Come Play the Trees, our puckish woodwose made one hell of a banging trip to the woods. An unstoppable, hurtling onslaught of cinephilia, Motorik beats, crunchy synth and absurd humour, the album won them cult acclaim and saw them graduate from squat party art happenings to become summer festival stalwarts. They are formidable live. Dressed in customised snipers’ ghillie suits and beating the crap out of handmade synthesisers strapped to logs, the band come with their own playful mythology. A nameless, faceless, atavistic collective, they’ve either got an edgy Cabaret-Voltaire-go-Folk-Horror vibe or are a post-punk, tiki-bar version of The Banana Splits, depending on the level of generosity you’re prepared to extend. Personally I rather like them. The follow-up, out now, is entitled Stunning Luxury, and the action relocates to the newly gentrified city. How do these bucolic sprites, these avatars of futuro-primitivism, make out among the coffee shops and apartment complexes? The answer is (spoilers ahead), not badly at all. They become estate agents.
Or something like that. There’s some sort of back-story about property developers anyway. It’s often hard to make sense of all the unintelligible shouting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where the first album traded on madcap hooks like ‘Hanging with the Moon’ or ‘Johnny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin’, Stunning Luxury is more concerned with refining the musical possibilities of the Snapped Ankles sound, doubling down on the irresistible percussive engine that they’ve somehow cobbled together. Where they do produce something that approaches being a song, as on ‘Delivery Van’ or ‘Drink and Glide’, while they’re both massively enjoyable tracks, there’s somehow a sense that their satiric barbs are falling slightly short of the target, or even that the targets are a bit old hat – suburban riots, new age dropouts, and, horror of horrors, people who work in marketing, “Just like Bill Hicks says on TV”, as they must insist on spelling it out on ‘Tailpipe’. For what it’s worth, Bill Hicks hasn’t been on TV since 1993, guys, and the cool kids think he’s lame. I’m not sure anyone can even be said to watch TV anymore. It’s all streaming now, Grandad.
Nonetheless, when Snapped Ankles are coming at you full-on, for instance on ‘Rechargeable’ it’s very hard to argue, and even when the lyrics make you roll your eyes, they’re still musically compelling. They aim for the kind of visceral mesmerism you might recall from the good bits of Throbbing Gristle, and throughout Stunning Luxury – well, as a great philosopher once said, your hips don’t lie. They use two drum kits in addition to the homemade drum machines and the combination of all these different sources of rhythm effortlessly manages to sweep all before it. Coupled with a natural ear for a great synth line it makes for an exhilarating electronic ride. On the call-and-response, faux-Bollywood of ‘Letter from Hampi Mountain’ and the Bebop undertones of the album’s opening track ‘Pestisound (Moving Out)’ they push themselves in some interesting directions.
Come Play the Trees was created over several years, all of the material thoroughly road tested at gig after gig. Stunning Luxury might be a candidate for second album syndrome, a case of getting the damn thing made and out there, and wanting to both satisfy and slightly confound their audience’s expectations. It isn’t quite the record that Come Play the Trees was, but it’s more than adequate. It conveys the manic and uplifting spirit of one of their gigs and, with a few caveats, it generally points forwards. As a portrait of city life in 2019, however, it’s a bit hit and miss. We’ve all seen our favourite venues torn down and thrown into skips over the last few years, seen rents sky-rocket, and tent cities appear in shopping streets. Stunning Luxury could have been a bit more articulate about some of this stuff, a bit more engaged. Perhaps they’re just optimists. No matter. If they can keep making records as enjoyable as this, I’ll forgive them anything.
Stunning Luxury is out now on The Leaf Label.