Longform

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake Is About to Release the Year's Most Primal Album

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The five musicians of Snake Rattle Rattle Snake have come to appreciate the importance of adjustment and attention to detail in the past two years, much of which they spent crammed into a small room, laying down vocals and endlessly repeating bass lines and synth sounds. They added and removed and adjusted and added again the sounds that would become Totem. Hayley Helmericks, who fronts the band, says they "sunk into" the recording process.

That wasn't the plan. Initially, they went to a studio in Boulder to play the live tracks and mix them from there, as they had done with debut album Sineater.

"We went into the studio thinking we were just going to record a handful of songs," says Helmericks, "but it ended up being twice as many songs, and we ended up taking a different approach with it."

So they took the raw recordings to a home studio owned by Hayley's brother, SRRS synth player Wilson Helmericks. "We decided to...work with the songs and feel them out and see where they needed to go," says Wilson, who served as the primary producer. "I always wanted to do that. All these people are really smart and artistic, and by the end of this process, all of us were communicating in a way about music and about art that was just unique."

It's fitting that Totem took so long to make, because it's an album that rewards patience. There are no clear choruses or catchy hooks. Instead, this is a record with a pulse. It fluctuates, recedes and then lunges forward suddenly. Hayley's vocals are more than compelling enough to carry the listener through, but this is miles away from the band's debut, which sent danceable sensibilities and catchy melodies through a macabre filter. "I think [a darker sound] always kind of bubbled up in how we play music," says Wilson. "We've always been beat-oriented. Certain levels of dissonance and not-so-catchy bright melodies, and just kind of a pulse. That's what we've always gravitated toward."

Totem is still capable of making people move, but this time it's almost ritualistic, with Hayley singing incantations, repeating the same phrases as beats swell and fade behind her. "I root for the antelope, I root for the lion," she whispers over and over in "Versus," while drums and bass slowly build. While the album is very much a group effort, the result comes across as personal and private, the work of a fanged, five-headed beast.

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Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones