Snailbones is an “angular noise rock band” from the Pacific Northwest that has just released their third album titled Erroneous Harmonius. I heard their previous release Keelhaul ‘Em All, and in their press kit they mentioned their next album (this one) would be engineered and mixed by legendary producer Steve Albini. The joke at the time was that Keelhaul ‘Em All sounded like Albini was already working the boards! The members are Timothy Francis (guitar/vocals), Kelly Minton (bass/vocals) and Drew Owens (drums/screams). Formed in Portland, Oregon, in 2017, the band toured relentlessly until COVID 19 reared its ugly head. They took the time off to self-produce their first two albums, then followed up with this current collection. They cite as influences Shellac, The Jesus Lizard and the Breeders, though within their last two albums I hear undeniable echos of the Nirvana classic In Utero which was produced by… Steve Albini. Steve recorded the band at Electrical Audio Studios, with mastering again by Bob Weston at Chicago Mastering Service. “Less I Know” begins with a tentative, quiet guitar riff worthy of The Breeders. The drums and bass join in with that great roomy sound Albini is known for. The song itself very much carries the classic Nirvana quiet/loud dynamic, with a chord sequence similar to “Pennyroyal Tea” from In Utero. Right away I feel like the guys are conserving their power this time around, singing and playing with intensity but leaving plenty of room to go even further. The little feedback grace notes add a lot to the song. “787876” kicks the beat into triple time, with rolling drums and scratchy, pick-flicking guitar tones. This track features the compelling vocals of Kelly MInton (as did their previous album) which adds to the Breeders or Veruca Salt feel. The middle section features a droning viola by Juliet Minton as guitarist Francis plays a Morse-code like pattern, leading to an explosive minor key rave-up within a halo of eerie viola tones. “Elliott” has a tight rock structure with everyone hitting all the beats and syncopations dead on. The lyrics are simple (“Miss you, don’t go” etc.) which adds to the hypnotic effect. Juliet Minton adds viola to this track as well. Francis takes this opportunity for some incredible vocal cord shredding that the producer captures without a hint of distortion, so that the sound is fully human and fully unchained. “Nacho Song” has an unbridled energy that recalls the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and again features the vocals of bassist Kelly Minton (she’s clearly the band’s best-kept secret). In its own way, this track is a mini-epic with three distinct sections and blocky but inventive guitar melodies. “Captive” has the male and female vocalists together for a fast, thick rave-up about the kind of hypnotic love that you’ll “never survive.” Most of the song is built on a four-chord motif that everyone plays the hell out of, as fast as possible. “Instro” is a one-minute instrumental that opens side two of the vinyl. It’s a rude, chunky and riff-laden track that nicely resets the table. Another one-minute track “The Runaway” follows, and given its short length and oddball arrangement it can’t help but recall The Minutemen (with much more fuzz, of course). In “He’s Brand New” Francis channels Cobain both with his snarling vocals and the subject matter: some type of an interloper (your Mom’s second husband?) to whom they offer a noose. The performance matches the anger within the lyrics but without gratuitously jumping the grooves. “Gothbones” is a track I was not expecting, as it’s explicitly a callout for reproductive and Trans rights. Structurally it could be X or Patti Smith, with the guitars flicking up and down the neck with Dick Dale velocity. “TEAR GAS” sounds like a track written by someone who was attacked by Trump’s storm troopers and who can still smell the gas in their hair. It’s a short and very angry blast (just 29 seconds) and features a guest vocal by Chris Lupo. Continuing in the short song/simple idea category, “Doesn’t Really Matter” is a jumpy screed about having to go into work when you have no more sick days. We can all relate! But I have to say I appreciate the band trying out these shorter songs after the longer, scream-infested tracks on their previous album. Musically this one feels like psychedelic garage rock from the late ’60s. “Leave the Scene” is the kind of track you’d expect to conclude an album: a defiant statement of self worth in the face of seemingly endless apathy (“I am nameless / I’m not famous / I will carve my way / This seems endless and monotonous / I will carry on anyway”). Lyrically this one does feel different and that may be down to co-writer Josh Cady. Musically it uses the quiet-loud motif to great effect, not just between verse and chorus but between the start and end of the song, with a conclusion that builds until nearly exploding. “Outro” starts with a Tex-Mex guitar motif which trades off with the bass as the drummer seems to play the edges of his tubs. The song proper is another fast, hardcore scream-fest that lyrically trades on chilling images of, say, Sid and Nancy bleeding in bed. The riffs and playing here are titanic, with the unbridled energy I first associated with this band. With this third great collection I can’t see any downside for this killer group and can’t recommend them enough!
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