Album Review: Sneaks – Highway Hypnosis

The third outing from Eva Moolchan – aka Sneaks – is something of a paradox.

Sneaks - Highway Hypnosis - Merge Records - Too Many Blogs

Undoubtedly, her journey from the gritty grunge of her debut Gymnastics to the genre-traversing Highway Hypnosis has seen her emerge as a striking and nonchalantly charismatic artist. She’s millennial in the best possible sense of the word in the way she demonstrably boasts a vast catalogue of influences.

On ‘Addis’, she builds the track around dubby stabs, drawing heavily on the genre’s knack for grand musical atmospheres. On the titular opener, Sneaks opts for sinister, trappy hi-hat rolls to brew up a disjointed sense of foreboding. On ‘Holy Cow Never Saw A Girl Like Her’ she reverts to the punky, naked, resonant bass scales that drove her earlier work.

It’s also hard to dispute she’s making ardent efforts to push her artistic expression in new directions, here adopting a sparse musical profile that rings true of something far more avant-garde than the lo-fi buzz of her debut and the gritty electro of It’s A Myth.

And while Sneaks has never been especially verbose, on album number three, she marries her lyrical approach to convoluted, occasionally Spartan production – music that adopts an atmosphere of unease and menace that matches her lyrical word jumbling.

‘Money Don’t Grow On Trees’ is perhaps the first point this seems really apparent, the track’s lilting, loping rhythm sliding along next to the airy, nonchalant vocal delivery. But it’s also apparent in the brevity of ‘Saiditzoneza’ (even if the track is conceptually unfulfilled compared to other moments on the album) and is more fully realised on closer ‘Hong Kong To Amsterdam’, the record’s stand-out, full of pace and energy, the production doing only what’s needed of it to provide a platform for the lyrics.

It’s Sneaks’ idiosyncrasies that make Highway Hypnosis charming and often compelling, and it’s how deeply embedded these traits are in the artists – manifesting and developing across her burgeoning career – that give her such a sense of personal gravitas.

But while this all comes together to make a record both engrossing and mesmeric in places, it also leaves you wondering if there’s any real substance to this. Sneaks – also millennially in, perhaps, the best possible way – seems to be straddling a fine line between the profound and prosaic.

“And when the match a-lit it goes on fire,” she repeats on ‘The Way It Goes’.
Well, yeah. That’s the nature of matches.

And with lines like this it’s tempting to be troubled by concerns that there’s not a great deal of substance to what Sneaks has to say, only empty wordplay masquarding as poetry.

But then again, Confusius advised “The way out is through the door,” and that is, indeed, the nature of doors.

And when you think about how many people seemingly didn’t realise that leaving the EU would mean no longer having the advantages of being part of the EU, a common sense remark like ‘when a match is lit, it’s on fire’ seems less prosaic and more profound.

The paradox of Sneaks’ musical approach is it’s hard to know whether this is something frustrating empty or wonderfully, uniquely fulsome. It’s hard to find any sense of narrative to grab hold off, which makes the record brilliantly engaging in the way it reflects the listener’s interpretive input and jarringly frustrating in that it creates something of a void between the listener and the creator.

One the one hand, it might be a modern poseur who’s fallen upon a winning formula, a blend of right-sounding phrases and music that gives enough to be engaging but not so much as to surrender a valuable sense of flippancy. On the other, it might be a genuinely profound commentary on the modern world served up so obliquely as to render its true essence almost invisible – which, when all’s said and done, is about right for the state of the world in January 2019.