Album Review: Amphetamine Ballads by The Amazing Snakeheads

Posted at August 5th, 2015 | by Mukul Menon | in

With just bass, guitar, drums, slight production touches, and snarling vocal jolts of apparent rage sometimes it is reaffirming to witness how visceral the initial, original energy of music making itself can be if listeners are allowed to access it, god willing; after all, a lot could be lost in mulling over. The Amazing Snakeheads have resolved to lash it all out with maximum force with their debut album Amphetamine Ballads, and looks like this is their style, that they’ll shed skin and renew themselves only in primal capacity if they go on to make another record. For this reason, producers Emily MacLaren and Stuart Evans can pride themselves on enhancing the spirit of their music with tidy, minimalistic nuances as additions. The idea is simple, so is the execution, to great effect.


If not given a patient listening, the charm of Amphetamine Ballads could easily be looked over. After all the familiar rockabilly grooves, laced with angry punk rock sensibility in screaming slogans like “no more lies, no more hate, no more hope” could be thought of as strange, especially when treated like a loud, ambient goth record. For e.g. the album breaks open with the sound of a smashing gong on the menacing ‘I’m a Vampire’. This song represents the extremity of their raw powered theatrics, as though throwing in the test straightaway; if you are capable of liking this sound the album is laden with treats for you. The second song- ‘Nighttime’, features a common pattern observed in the album, which is to begin with an empty melodic guitar intro before introducing the song on a simple bass and drum groove with a noticeable tempo change. It sports reverb laden stabs and hits from various instruments augmented by claps, flangey guitars and brass instruments of traditional rock‘n’roll stamp. “I don’t come alive till nighttime” is the memorable one liner of a chorus aided eerie female backing vocals.

The lyric sheet to ‘Here It Comes Again’ is within the title itself. Yes, it’s a four word song- a throbbing compulsive beat with drum and bass and Barclay mutters the words under his breath with doodling guitars that waits ominously to explode into a thrashy instrumental chorus. But the most interesting of these songs is ‘Flatlining’. The finish is reminiscent of Radiohead’s National Anthem, I.e. driving bass line and brass until this unusual mix of sound heads towards a free flowing crescendo. The heavy echo on the voice conjures up spectral sonic qualities of halls and corridors complemented with dollops of off-the-grid, limbo inducing breakdown passages. There is a flagrant seething vibe of the song that does everything to stoke the jittery energy up to a frenzy. The soft-loud verse-chorus mood is extended up until ‘Where is my Knife’.
Just when the album’s almost completely rhythm driven mood is on the verge of getting monotonous they bring about ‘Every Guy Wants to be Her Baby’, a soft whispering Chet-Baker-like vocal mix with bluesy guitar and sax droning in the background. While this is still unwilling to go the melodic way, the song suddenly kicks in with high octane guitar riffing and some alternating guitar and brass free flowing instrumental passages. They introduce the melodic transition with ‘Memories’, which is the third of the album that features an enjoyable brass infused rock and roll crescendo, which moves onto two empty western-soundtrack influenced tracks, with expansive, dramatic pauses, improvised sections, and interludes i.e. ‘Heading for Heartbreak’ and ‘Tiger by the Tail’.


Take it by both hands / and shake it if it needs it” is ranted without any music behind it after every high adrenaline chorus on ‘Memories’. That sums up their style. Wearing the bare bones abrasive attitude on their sleeves, the Snakeheads also look the same whether live or in music videos. Trying to spark fury in the listener, their scowls and tough-as-nails persona seamlessly seeps into their audio avatar as well. After listening, what you would imagine them to be is exactly what they are on stage.
The production finesse in Amphetamine Ballads brings about listener friendly elements to the texture of most of the songs that require it but doesn’t register figure too conspicuously. The actual music from the jam band would’ve been completely bereft of this aspect of this record and that version could have been nearly inaccessible by new listeners.

Mukul Menon


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