By: Eric Greenwood
Hot Snakes, the band reuniting Drive Like Jehu alumni, John Reis and Rick Froberg, returns with another blistering thirty minutes of cerebral guitar attacks, although, it's notably less tense and bombastic than anything these guys have ever created together. Maybe, it's just the passing of time that's mellowed Reis' yearning for piercing guitar wails, but the calmer mood certainly hasn't sacrificed any songwriting precision. The same goes for Froberg's manic vocal approach. While Froberg's frantic screech has toned down exponentially over the years, he's still the fierce focal point of every one of Reis' caterwauling riffs.
Suicide Invoice flaunts a moodier edge than the band's 2000 debut, Automatic Midnight. Song structure has become more of a force with sonic barbarism now taking a back seat. Each song barely scratches three minutes, so Reis and Froberg bait you early with memorable hooks and clear-cut choruses. The best example of the band's growth is the borderline poppy "Unlisted", which features Froberg's most sincere vocal delivery to date, practically rendering him unrecognizable- even to longtime fans. The chorus unfolds so naturally thanks to Reis' recessive chords. It's easily the album's highlight.
For a taste of the old days, "I Hate The Kids" has a drunken yet cocksure guitar swagger with Froberg's annoyed yowl stealing the show. The pace may be slower than you'd expect, but it rocks just as hard, especially with Reis' layering of shrill chords in the chorus. Perhaps, the most familiar sound is the raucous rage embodied in "Gar Forgot His Insulin." Froberg's yell starts to sputter and break apart when he raises the tension while Reis' wiry guitars unfurl into a jangly maelstrom that straddles the line separating melody and noise.
The garage rock bluster that has permeated everything these guys have ever touched is obviously still a huge part of their sound, but it is notable how the reliance on bombastic rhythms has been supplanted by superior songwriting. The effect is not as immediate, though, as histrionics always make a better first impression, but these songs linger longer in your mind. "Paid In Cigarettes" and the title track both reveal the band's darker, more expansive emotional range; yet there's still plenty of bile-infested, fist-pumping rock all over Suicide Invoice ("XOX" and "Who Died"), solidifying Hot Snakes' second full-length as a classic example of how louder is not always better.