Snake River – Songs from the Adjacent Room
Songs from the Adjacent Room, the new album from Regina rockers Snake River, reveals a divergence from the folksy tonality of their debut album McKruski. Even though band members Dustin Gamracy, John De Gennaro, Christopher Sleightholm, and Whistlin’ Jeff M. have shifted toward a more psychedelic corner of rock, this new album follows in the storytelling tradition of traditional folk that initially elevated McKruski to its current success. Much like McKruski, Songs from the Adjacent Room recounts the story of the fictional Reginald McKruski and his wife. The seven tracks on the album take place over the course of a single day, February 2, 1989, and draw mostly from the couple’s daily dialogue and the occasional vivid flashback, effectively painting a poignant portrait of the couple’s 16-year marriage. In this sense, Songs from the Adjacent Room offers a glimpse of the everyday, humming with thoughtful lyrics and ethereal vocals set against the backdrop of eerie guitar riffs and reverberating drums.
The album opens with “Hours III: Jeanie Says,” a spirited track where the coalescing vibrations of drums and guitar are coupled with Sleightholm’s harrowing lyrics. This song, along with the closing track on the album, “Hours IV: Don’t Want to Wake You,” is emblematic of Sleightholm’s full lyrical prowess. The delicate lyrics aren’t as fuzzy as the other tracks’ lyrics tend to be. It seems fitting, especially considering Snake River’s penchant for grandiose storytelling, that the album’s introductory and closing tracks are pensive and inconclusive, serving to softly lead and end the album’s narrative arc and simultaneously create the ambient vibe expected from psychedelic rock. “Resonating On” reflects this aspect perfectly, as it is brimming with meandering vocal harmonies and numbing guitar interludes.
Although Snake River began as a solo project for singer Sleightholm, the band now boasts four members, including former members of Canadian bands Despistado and Spoils, each having enjoyed their own respective musical accolades. Sleightholm is still very much at the helm of Snake River, writing and performing all the songs: in essence, he is composing the album’s fictional trajectory. Hailing from the great Canadian West, the band seeks to incorporate some aspect of homegrown folk flavour, while also capturing the listener’s interest for intricate storytelling with an undertone of hypnotic rock.
The thing about Songs from the Adjacent Room, as with any fantastic album with ambitious plot-driven lyrics, is that it evolves with each successive listen. The listener is transported time and time again as the songs replay, their mind brimming with atmospheric haze and lyrical subtleties.
The Hellbound Hepcats – Turn Me Inside Out
Those familiar with the Hellbound Hepcats’ earlier work know that their high-quality, Elvis-inspired vocals and Stray Cats-infused basslines stand out in the modern rockabilly scene. In a genre as prone to tropes and catchy repetition as rockabilly, it can be refreshing to hear new approaches to the sound. The group’s most recent album, Turn Me Inside Out, provides fans with more of the classic rockabilly swing that previous albums so deftly adopted. As always, the band steeps its sound in country Western influences, and this delivers in dividends. The sound is full, dark, new, and immaculately performed.
Even the group’s foray into psychobilly in the opening track, “Black Cats,” bears the hallmark of a group well-versed in its product. The over-the-top, Misfits-esque lyrics are mirrored in the driving bassline’s frantic energy, and the tempo and production of the guitar tone modernize their swing sound. It’s a pulsing party of a track that both opens the album and marks its highest point, and on its own is enough to make the record worth a listen. Time and time again, this group proves that the extended world of rockabilly is right where it belongs.
Tracks diverging more dramatically from the album’s theme, however, tend to fall short of the mark. “Something Different” attempts to infuse a country fifties ballad with a more aggressive early seventies punk sound, but the result lacks the charm of either genre. “Feeding Yourself to the Wolves” feels clean and well-rehearsed, but sterile and without the passion a song of its sombre tone deserves.
The real trouble starts near the end of the record, when the group’s sound takes on a far darker tone with the heavy track “Restless Soul.” The song dramatically diverges from its previously playful and swinging tone, adopting a not fully fleshed out attempt at nihilistic early-2000s alternative rock. Moving into the final track, “Southbound Train,” the tone once again shifts wildly, this time into a sort of jazzy lounge feel in which the band sounds out of their comfort zone. The record’s conclusion is clunky and unnecessary, and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in the listeners’ mouth, following an otherwise strong performance.
Turn Me Inside Out is without a doubt the most ambitious record yet for the Hellbound Hepcats, and while this ambition feels forced and unnatural, it certainly allows the band members to further explore themselves as musicians. If anything, it’s a promise that the group has aspirations of blurring the boundaries of rockabilly with continued refinement. The Hellbound Hepcats may just be the group to redefine rockabilly in the modern sense, but their latest record shows they haven’t quite landed it yet.