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Deadly Snakes - Porcella

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Artist: Deadly Snakes

Album: Porcella

Label: In the Red

Review date: Oct. 3, 2005

So this is how the garage explosion winds down, just as it did in the '60s. Songwriters become more mature, tempos slow, orchestration creeps in, arrangements become more subtle. Brighter moments become brighter, while darkness and trauma take on suitable hues. No longer can the music sustain “red with purple flashes”; to shake your sound to pieces is not a sustainable option as your anchors of longevity dig deeper into the watery floor.

It’s just the way that things go. Mark E. Smith once said, “Do you do what you did last year? Well, don’t make a career out of it.” Different times and sentiments provoked that statement, to be sure, but it rings true, and after a while it becomes pretty evident who subscribes to that theory and who doesn’t. After three albums and over six years of goodtime party rock battery, here is the Deadly Snakes first wholly clean break into classic singer-songwriter territory.

This Toronto sextet is at their best when they’re not drawing from an obvious influence. They have a mastery over their instruments that many of their contemporaries lack, but it's coupled with a lack of spontaneity that doesn't trouble their contemporaries: the Reigning Sound, a band that would never lean on the klang of late-period Tom Waits; the mournful drang of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; or the mourn itself of fellow countryman Leonard Cohen. No, these guys don’t hit their stride here until about five tracks in with “Gore Veil,” where it all comes together: it's Neil Diamond. Through some streak of pure coincidence, both vocalists in the Deadly Snakes (the reedy break of Max “Age of Danger” McCabe, last seen disemboweled in George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and the throatier tones of Andre Ethier) match facets of the Jewish Elvis’s timbre and tonality. It’s so obvious, funny how no one's touched on it.

Is Neil really that much bad juju? He does have that comeback album with Rick Rubin ready to drop soon. He’s a fantastic singer and arranger, especially in the early days – classics like “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees have never lost their luster, and Neil remained a strong presence well into the '70s, maybe even up through Hot August Night. And his records are a hell of a lot easier to dig up than an original of Forever Changes. Alas, only Urge Overkill have been brazen enough to tread in his mighty footsteps with any sort of reverence, though for the most part they got it wrong; they championed and fetishized Neil’s image of sweaty, sweeping, heartrending leisure, and rode it all the way to the bank ‘til their metaphysical check bounced. That the Snakes are holding onto the man’s sense of finely weathered songwriting and passion for performance speaks volumes about the effort that they undertake here in their maturation as a band, and even if lyrics sometimes lean towards the obvious, or the unpleasantly allegorical – as they do in “Gore Veil” – the song itself is a step forward, marching on with a noble bass line, Mellotron chimes and a men’s chorus, a feat for DIY production and a sign of great things to come. They manage to hold this down for the rest of the album, too, amidst the crisp sliding twang of “Let It All Go,” the confident brass jaunt of “By Morning I’m Gone,” and the late-night burn of “So Young & So Cruel,” which refinishes the aforementioned Cave fixation from Gothic cabaret buffoonery into heartfelt soul crooning.

Hardly a perfect album, this Porcella. But their missteps make for listening that’s nearly as compelling as when they hit dead on. Here we have a band actively separating wheat from chaff, and while that limited-to-300 Carbonas single will always have that immediate appeal to you musical Trekkies out there, the Deadly Snakes are making something built to last longer than the season in which it was released. The project isn’t yet near completion (to that end, completists will want to hold out for the double vinyl version of this album, A Bird in the Hand is Worthless, due out in January and touting seven more songs that won’t be released anywhere else), but it’s so refreshing to hear a band actually working hard on a lasting legacy that reaches out over the fire and spit of their past. You’ve done Papa Neil right, boys. At ease.

By Doug Mosurock

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