SNST Blend Genres on Turn Out The Lights
Too many guitars to be pop. Too many electronic blooms to be rock. Too many live drums to be electronica.
Chicago’s SNST (Sunset) create a meld of disparate genres with their sound that does something rare these days: sound unique.
Chris Broach and Steve Znavor (of The Firebird Band) are SNST (pronounced Sunset) and they are here to thoughtfully confuse you with their sound. SNST’s debut full length album, Turn Out The Lights (produced by Will Yip and recorded at Studio 4,) is the smart kind of genre bending album of music that exists somewhere on the periphery of the type of electronica influenced rock/electronica that we’ve come to expect from artists like Moby. While SNST aren’t as steeped in the club-like sounds that define most of Moby’s music, they definitely make use of the best parts of the worlds of electronica and rock music to come up with something that sounds uniquely disparate, yet consistent. In other words, they are that rare interesting listen that most audiophiles will love getting lost in.
Turn Out The Lights opens with the oddly titled “‘76-78’” and immediately sets the tone by setting the song’s time signature to the beat of a live drum kit. Almost immediately, chiming guitar lines start up and continue throughout the song. The solid rock foundation is completed with the addition of a throbbing bass guitar line. Electronica flourishes show up here and there, but it’s pretty obvious that we are in rock music territory. Followed immediately by “Remember How It Ends”, Turn Out The Lights reverses course as a funky electronic bloom opens the song this time. Almost as immediately as the guitars chimed in on the last song though, the live drums rise up and a similar guitar sound quickly takes over to guide the track, along with some distorted electric guitar riffing. The effect is similar to fellow Chicago genre benders Hidden Hospitals. “76-78” and “Remember How It Ends” both establish a solid rock foundation that relies on the rock staples.
Then suddenly, we’re taken off the beaten rock path with the next track “Maybe We’ve Got It”. Throbbing electronica rhythms, electronic beats, and a minimally plucked electric guitar form the foundation of the song here. It’s a noted departure from the first two songs on the album, but Broach’s vocals tie everything back together and maintain a consistency of sound that holds together the shifting musical identity of SNST, not only here, but throughout the entire album.
Turn Out The Lights is the type of album that keeps you interested, not just because of the smart melding of genres, but because of Broach’s voice, lyrics, and the duo’s smart songwriting. “National Monument”, my personal favorite track on the album, swerves decidedly back into rock territory, but maintains the electronica flourishes that keep that song from landing with a dull thud into boring rock territory. A particular electronic bloom in the latter third part of the song fills the space where any other band might insert the obligatory guitar hero solo. While there’s nothing wrong with guitar heroics, here the atmosphere, and politicized lyrics, would be trivialized by a rote rock-guitar solo. Instead, the electronic bloom makes you sit up and pay attention rather than drifting off into stoner rock la-la land. The repetitive rhythm of the track, oddly enough, also maintains your interest as it takes on the effect of a tritone that keeps you anxiously waiting for the rhythm to crest and break. It never does, and the tension conveyed in the lyrics is reinforced. All of this, when combined, holds your interest as well as attention. It’s a smart way to get your message across, and is the type of song that reveals SNST’s smart songwriting chops. “National Monument” is the heavy rotation track off the album and foreshadows the great songs that we can look forward to from SNST as they continue to hone their already lethally sharp songwriting and performing skills.
There’s plenty of other well written songs on Turn Out The Lights, including the 80s retro sounding “Phoenix 1986” that addresses Cold War fears and arcade games. Loaded with smart electronica elements as well as New Wave-ish bass and guitar lines, it’s a smart trip down memory lane. The song that most directly balances out the disparate sounds on the album (and is a complete 180 degree turn from “Maybe We’ve Got It”) is “Hold Fast”. Here, guitar heroics are flirted with and hard rock beats dominate. It’s a great rock track. Even though it’s diametrically opposed to “Maybe We’ve Got It”, they compliment each other and sit comfortably next to each other on the same album. The genre blending songs that separate them on the album foster the perfect environment for both songs to exist. Their differences are what unify the album, and make Turn Out The Lights such an interesting listen.
It’s no surprise that some of the most interesting music being recorded right now is coming from Chicago area bands. With its diverse genre history comprised of everything from WaxTrax! industrialism to Buddy Guy blues to Smashing Pumpkins grunge/metal, bands like SNST embody the next logical musical step. I can’t wait to hear what SNST has in store for us down the road. For now though, Turn Out The Lights will have to suffice, and will.