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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
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+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
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+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
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+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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44.1 kHz Archive

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Hot Snakes
Suicide Invoice

By respectively leading two of the greatest punk bands of the modern era (Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt), Rick Froberg and John Reis could happily retire — if only their brand of intelligent punk made them money. Fortunately, their relative poverty (just guessing here) is our treasure trove since the pair reunited in 1999 as the Hot Snakes, releasing Automatic Midnight, one of the best records of the decade. Eschewing their previous side-project party line, Reis and Froberg, along with Delta 72 drummer Jason Kourkounis, have re-teamed for another amazing Hot Snakes release, Suicide Invoice.

Constructed with the same trademark guitar sounds that garnered their other bands notoriety, Suicide Invoice will seem instantly familiar to DLJ and RFTC fans, but completely alien to three-chord punkers. Froberg's and Reis' guitar playing swirls, attacking melodies from unexpected angles with nary a power chord in sight. Best of all, despite their obvious talents, it feels completely tossed off, brawny but smart.

The duo's astonishing abilities allow the guitars, rather than the vocals, to do the emoting on Invoice. With the expressive duties shifted to the six-strings, Froberg's voice, which isn't anything special, manages to convey a sense of desperation without resorting to vocal bullying. In the title cut Froberg sings the striking line, "And when I dream/ I keep my promises to you/ I really do," but he wisely lets the guitars take the lead with a brilliantly simple descending guitar line. The passage is restrained, and all the more powerful for it.

Even when the guitars weave through complex lines, as in the album's opener, "I Hate the Kids," they're balanced by Froberg's self-control. While Reis' growl is much stronger and more distinctive than Froberg's, the Hot Snakes' muted tone lends itself to the latter's unadorned style. The guitar interplay is, at times, so intricate that a more flamboyant vocalist would be distracting.

The best songs on Suicide Invoice, like the title track, are deceptively simple and melancholy. Typically, when punk bands try to sound sad, they go to extremes — playing either kitschy '80s covers or acoustic throwaways. The Hot Snakes, on the other hand, convey feelings of desperation while avoiding potential cringe-inducing moments, primarily by keeping the music's volume and tempo just as aggressive, but letting chord changes and curbed vocals dictate the tone.

Both "Suicide Invoice" and "Unlisted" employ this technique. "Unlisted" possesses an impressively melodic chorus, vaguely reminiscent of Paul McCartney's songwriting style, that Froberg completely downplays. It begs to be screamed, yet Froberg merely mutters it. His reservation feels like a boast: "Look at what we can do without even trying!"

Still, Suicide Invoice can't top Automatic Midnight — but that's a lot to ask for. Midnight was a flawless punk record — energetic, smart and fun. Invoice maintains those qualities, but to a slightly lesser degree. Considering the perfection Reis and Froberg have previously achieved (Yank Crime, Scream, Dracula, Scream and Automatic Midnight), though, expectations for them will always be stratospheric, and they rarely let us down.

by Yancey Strickler

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