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The Snares - Something Happened on the Way To Heaven

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Artist: The Snares

Album: Something Happened on the Way To Heaven

Label: Horrible

Review date: Jan. 29, 2003

The Snares, an avant-rock trio from Dunedin, New Zealand, first made noise stateside back on September 12 when WFMU charted their debut EP Something Happened on the Way to Heaven… as its No. 1 record of the week, but the following week, a new radio chart – with 30 new records, as always – appeared and the Snares’ brief stay atop the American underground was over with little fanfare. As of press time, Something Happened still hasn’t broken into North America’s circle of hip distributors, which is a damn shame considering the glut of indie blah readily available.

The Snares’ exclusion is even more perplexing considering the pedigree involved. Drummer Mike Dooley manned the kit back in 1977 for New Zealand’s pioneering punk band The Enemy (taken from Britain’s NME), perhaps best known as Chris Knox’s first band. After The Enemy disbanded in 1979, Dooley stayed on for Knox’s next project, Toy Love, a new-wave pop band that found commercial success when their single “Rebel” was released on Warner New Zealand. That band broke also broke up relatively quickly and Knox went on to found the Tall Dwarfs and, along with The Clean, headline a genuine revolution of indie rock.

Dooley passed on international acclaim, but has been a fixture in Dunedin throughout the 80s and 90s. He collaborated with Clean and Chills founder Peter Gutteridge in the noise-fest Snapper, and later founded the Beaters, a duo with 19-year-old Max(ine) Funke on guitar.

The Beaters morphed into the Snares in 2002 when Brett Moodie slid over from the Zoo Polluters. Like many of today’s “happening” bands, the trio lacks a bass player, opting instead for the fashionable guitar-guitar-drums troika, but the Snares eschew the current garage fad in favor of more avant tendencies. In fact, the Snares draw more from Dunedin’s wellspring of noise artists than any current M2 phenom. Moodie’s ghoulish vocals and buzzsaw slide action on the opening “The Enthusiasts” quickly erode any presumed garage sentiments and establish an accurate, if perplexing mood for the remainder of the album.

Throughout Something Happened, Moodie and Funke seem to wear away at their guitars, spinning their wheels in greasy, rhythmic ruts. The eerie slide hooks that anchor “The Enthusiasts” and “Skeleton Cats” thrive less on particular notes and more on a hypnotic elasticity. Settling in next to Dooley’s rocksteady kitwork and Funke's falsetto caterwaul, the dueling guitars make for an intriguing and septic conduit between the two extremes.

The dirty interplay continues in more conventional fashion on “Mist Around,” when Moodie’s slide takes on a bluesy roadhouse appeal. Like its fellow songs, “Mist” gains momentum through diehard repetition, with Dooley laying the groundwork. Moodie and Funke’s atonal vocal harmonization here works well at offsetting the track’s slightly traditional bend.

“Redevelopments Down at the Wharf,” a cryptic piece that may or may not condemn the recent worldwide trend of yuppie renovation in low-income communities (the lyrics are tough to decipher), features the two trading off vocal duties with mixed results. Dooley’s musty backbeat is one of the album’s best, but Funke’s singing strays a bit far in parts.

This is nit-picking, of course. In Something Happened on the Way To Heaven, the Snares have tapped into something special. Recorded at the magical Arc Life studio by Tom Bell, these songs tremble with a caustic turbulence, their diametrical components unfolding in constant imbalance. From the creepy skeletal album art to Funke's otherworldly wail, the Snares’ graveyard rock radiates a subliminal understanding of its own frailty, yet the sound's taped-together perseverance somehow holds defiant while teetering on the edge of self-destruction. The thin, spectral lines of flight running thoughout Something Happened vibrate, stretch, but never snap – an extraordinary feat whose deserved audience reaches far beyond the South Island.

Something Happened on the Way To Heaven is available through the Snares' website: Click Here.

By Otis Hart

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