Editor's Note: For the last nine years, Splendid's reviews have been edited pretty aggressively -- for grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, accuracy, coherence and thoroughness of argument, and even adherence to "house" style. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I've always believed that for online magazines to succeed, they must offer the highest quality content possible. Second, how can you trust a publication to recommend music if its writers can't tell the difference between there, their and they're? That said, editing is extremely time consuming, and on many occasions over the last nine years, I've wondered what would happen if I took a week off and let the reviews go through completely untouched. Long story short: this week, from December 5th through December 10th, is that week, and the review you're about to read is untouched by editorial hands. Will this new (and very temporary) hands-off policy make a difference? Will you even notice? We'll see...
A career highlight for this Toronto-based garage blues band, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink album flits from R&B flavored rockers like "Sissy Blues" to the delicate organ-trilling balladry of "A Bird in the Hand (Is Worthless)" to the odder, art-rocking, junk-percussioned waltz of "High Prices Going Down." The very best track on the album -- the 1960s Pied Piper beckoning "Gore Veil" -- sounds nothing like any of the others, yet that is to be expected, because none of the tracks sound particularly like the ones before or after them. A rich variety of musical sounds -- not just standard rock instruments but strings, woodwinds, brass and unusual percussion -- contribute to the heterogeneity, but the songs themselves are radically different, too. There's a grab bag quality to Porcella, but that's part of its charm.
The disc starts with "Debt Collector," a hollow-voiced, blues-tinged, road-house romp, complete with bar stool piano and a searing Stax-ish organ solo. It leads, disconcertingly, into the plucked staccato intro of "200 Nautical Miles", which is the first of the album's tracks to feature a string section. Far from smoothing or sweetening the Snakes sound, however, the strings only serve to make it more anxious as bow-sawed violins do battle with distorted guitars. "Sissy Blues", which follows, is a straight-up southern rocker a la The Oblivians. It's unwise to get too comfortable, however, because next "High Prices Going Down," one of the album's best cuts, is also one of its most eccentric. Again the strings add color but not cushion, as they wash over what sounds like a child's metal piano and an off-kilter guitar line. The whole song feels crazily precise, like a mechanical toy constructed in a mental institution, as it wends its dark, Waits-ian way to conclusion.
All this brings us to "Gore Veil", a flute and tambourine laced romp through hippie-ish transcendental enlightenment. There's a trumpet fanfare in the middle of this song, set against a go-for-broke drum solo, that takes the song into a separate dimension, then the round-ish chorus of "What am I for?" repeats in layers of vocals and flute and happy percussion until you are lost in it.
"So Young and So Cruel" heads back to Southern blues-rock land, its Stax-leaning stateliness underlined with very fine trumpet surges and a winding saxophone embellishment. "Let It Go" sets the ghostly slide of guitars over a Mexicali beat, while Age of Danger sings gospel laments about the love of Jesus, the unstoppable rain and the unreliability of automobiles. With "Work", the band goes wide again, slipping in a quotation from "When You Wish Upon a Star" into a ramshackle percussion-driven meditation on striving and success. "The Banquet" is an organ-laced rave up, sped to the max and joyously chaotic. With the closer "A Bird in the Hand (Is Worthless)" we are back to the more vulnerable sonic territory of "Gore Veil". Here a lilting organ line lightens dark-ish words about dissatisfaction with the here and now, and again those pulsing sentiment-free strings turn a simple folk structure into something daring and dangerous.
Porcella's transitions are sometimes jarring, but the ideas fall thick on the ground. This is an adventurous and fascinating album by a band that refuses to acknowledge genre boundaries.