Centaur, In Streams (Martians Go Home)

Centaur - In Streams Centaur
In Streams
Martians Go Home
By: Eric Greenwood

Having only recently been fully exposed to Hum, the resurgence of Matt Talbot doesn't carry the weight for me it might for those who await his every move like the rising of the sun. And believe me, there are those out there that do. This gives me a far less learned perspective on his current band yet, very probably, a more honest/less biased one. Centaur's only real connection to Hum is in Talbot's sensitively strained vocals. The massive wall of guitars that marked Hum's signature sound has been replaced by a wall of atmospherics, where Talbot's voice serves as the centerpiece as opposed to the undercurrent.

There are moments of colossal rock to be sure, but such mountainous histrionics are used far more sparingly than they were in Hum. Centaur's musical scope casts a much wider net than Hum's rock-tinged dynamics. Talbot has clearly come into his own as a songwriter, and he's much more comfortable with his voice, evidenced by its dominant place in the mix. The forced whimsy of the opener, "Life Begins", straddles the fence of camp and sentimentality, but it's all made up for by one chord change that will send chills down your spine. The lyrics attached to it also save the song from a numbing blandness that would send Hum fans running for the nearest escape hatch.

The folksy moroseness of "Wait For The Sun" reveals a latent REM influence, particularly in the melodramatic chorus. Talbot sings with much more confidence and skill than ever before, and it's probably because his big, booming choruses demand that his voice adapt. The guitars finally knock your hair back on "The Same Place", a meandering, glacial epic, complete with ethereal vocals, dark arpeggios, and thunderous percussion.

Centaur takes its time pleading each case. The songs expand and develop slowly, often pushing the high end of seven minutes to make their points. "Strangers On 5" is no exception, pushing almost nine minutes with its loping melody and crystalline, jangly guitars. Talbot sounds distant, though sincere. Weird background noises filter in and out, leading up to the "Riders On The Storm"-inspired Fender Rhodes solo. The whole time you're expecting a noisy climax to erupt, but Centaur prefers the tease, as it only barely juices up the guitars for the last minute or so.

I'm kind of shocked by how often I hear Michael Stipe's influence rear its head in Talbot's inflection, but it's so clearly there. Certain syllables are just uncannily similar. "Placencia" begins as a jangly, almost folk-type ballad – the kind REM churned out ad nauseum in its IRS years – only to morph into a spacey, quasi-prog rocker and then back again, beautifully. The rumbling power of "Thimbles" should sate Hum fans (and Ride fans as well) if only briefly, as it's the closest any song on this album comes to resurrecting the ghost. The back masking and spacey effects aside, "Fields" is an atmospheric wonderland based solely on the way Talbot's guitars float majestically over the buzzing low end.

The title track closes the album in a truly pompous fashion, but it's gorgeous all the same. At a full thirteen minutes, "In Streams" visits unheard of extremes for Talbot. While the bone-crushing guitars that kick things off are to be expected, the new age synth outro certainly is not. The meat of the song rests on Talbot's metaphorical agrarian lyrical thread. The tide of the music recesses deeply during the vocal interludes, so that the one-finger synth line serves as the dramatic foundation. Ahh, Gary Numan is smiling somewhere. Everything Centaur seeks to prove is embodied in this song. It's a quintessential epic: pretentious, overly long, and melodramatic. But Centaur more than earns the right on this debut. This is smart, textural rock of the highest caliber.

Hot Snakes, Suicide Invoice (Swami)

Hot Snakes - Suicide Invoice Hot Snakes
Suicide Invoice
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.