[Dot Dash; 2011]
There is a rule in my car: if you are listening to Fugazi, the stereo must be set at five bars or higher. This rule was set years ago by my friend SongsSuck, and the rule has generally been limited to Fugazi because, well, they fucking rule. But today, I dare to add another band (or at least album) to my Honda Element’s “five bar” pantheon: I present to you, Snowman’s “Absence.”
Snowman have been a dominate force in the Australian music landscape for the past 10 years, so it’s pretty disheartening to find out that I just discovered them and their latest release “Absence” a few weeks ago, especially since the album is being released as a footnote to their recent break-up. Not since At the Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command” has a band sounded this cutting edge and on the verge of shattering all molds on their final release.
As a music reviewer (I feel like a douche referring to myself as such) an easy approach to reviewing an album is comparing it to what has come before. Whether it sounds like Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” or Ziggy Stardust, the use of compare and contrast helps guide the reader toward what they are in for with a certain album. With “Absence”, my guiding light is, well, absent. It is both brooding and sinister like Earth and Pyramids, but you’d be hard-pressed trying to find any distortion here. It’s filled with harmonizing, ghostly vocals, but it is far and away from anything resembling Bon Iver or Panda Bear. It has the synthy pulse of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, but the drumbeats take more from tribal territories than dance clubs. There is no need to pigeonhole it: this is Snowman; this is “Absence”.
You try categorizing “Hyena”:
The first time I listened to this album, I had it on while watching a Thunder versus Grizzlies playoff basketball game (listening to music while watching sports is the greatest discovery I’ve made in the past year; hasta luego Mark Jackson, you dolt!). Unfortunately, I had the music on low and much of my attention was on the game as I watched Zach Randolph “over-the-back” his way to another upset win. The reason I note this is that the album didn’t do anything for me. It finished without me noticing and left me feeling as empty as anyone outside of Memphis felt watching Marc Gasol and Tony Allen celebrate.
It wasn’t until a few mornings ago that Snowman hit me with a cold shot of brilliance: driving to work, with my stereo set at five bars, “Absence” filled the void of my morning drive with a luminosity that woke me up more than any espresso could ever accomplish. During a journey that is usually pure zombie mode, the atmosphere of Snowman had my mind reeling visions, my heart beating with anticipation. I realize that the word “atmosphere” gets thrown a lot in music reviews (it’s become somewhat of a crutch for me) but in this case, it truly transports you to a temple of both solitude and mystery. It somehow calms the soul, yet builds a tension within.
Turn your computer speakers up for “White Wall”, damn it!:
For the first time in years, I arrived to work and didn’t want to leave the car, didn’t want to leave the fantasy world created within Snowman’s music. I was in the wardrobe with the Lion and the Witch, I was in Wonderland, I’d found Oz, I’d discovered a solace within the monotony of life. Yet, standing before me, was my place of work. I looked at the five bar status on my car stereo, and slowly lowered it, listening as the magical world vanished, one bar at a time. But I smiled, knowing I would be back – for this I was certain.