Sneaks – ‘Highway Hypnosis’ review

Score

A marked progression from her previous (brilliant) post-punk albums, Eva Moolchan’s third record is a woozy masterclass in understatement, endlessly inspired and fizzing with ambience

Sneaks does not fuck around; she favours short, sharp, effortlessly cool compositions that worm their way into your consciousness without breaking a sweat. Her 2016 debut, ‘Gymnastics’ clocked in at a brisk 14-minutes across 10 tracks. The next year, follow-up ‘It’s A Myth’ added four minutes to the proceedings – and both times her unstated post-punk, consisting of only bass, drums and guitar, indicated her beginnings in the Washington, DC alternative scene.

They were brilliant records in their modest way, proof that creativity often flourishes under self-imposed restrictions. Yet third album ‘Highway Hypnosis’ marks a radical transformation – the revelation that Eva Moolchan (Sneaks’ real name) is an even more formidable force than she previously appeared. None of these 13 tracks break the three-minute mark, but each works an enormous amount of inventiveness into its brief running time.

The opening title track begins with warped vocals chanting “highway hypnosis”, like a sample lifted from cult horror flick Evil Dead, as other voices overlaps in the background, the sound underpinned with tinny percussion. It’s a suggestion that this record will be more sample-based than her previous works, drawing on hip-hop and – in the insidious synth line that swaggers through next track ‘The Way It Goes’ – even elements of ‘90s rave. ‘Suck It Like A Whistle’ combines brittle electronic beats, undulating synth, heavy bass and Moolchan’s sleepy vocal delivery, of all which coalesce to create something that deliberately never quite lifts off.

Because this is a decidedly restrained album, the likes of ‘Addis and ‘Cinammon’ sounding like snippets of bangers warped and slowed down; the effect that of hazy, strung-out transcendence, most notably achieved on the woozy ‘Beliefs’, which fizzes with ambience and tinkles of piano.

‘Highway Hypnosis’ is Sneaks’ longest (just over 28 minutes) and by far most worked-up record to date, layers of electronic instrumentation demonstrating a keen attention to detail. It’s a consistent masterclass in editing, each track a glimpse of brilliance – see: the hypnotic, stunted beats of ‘Money Don’t Grow On Trees’ – while ‘Hong Kong To Amsterdam’ features a jittering post-punk bassline that points to her roots. A unique record from a self-assured talent.

Details

Release date: January 25
Record label: Merge Records