Autocrats and apologists beware: Snaex has grown larger, and they’re poised to strike. The erstwhile duo of guitar-slinging singer-songwriters Chris Teret and Chriss Sutherland added jazz bassist Tyler Heydolph awhile back, and have now filled out their indie-folk sound with peerless drummer Tom Rogers, who formerly played with Sutherland in the iconic experimental collective Cerberus Shoal. Snaex’ first release as a foursome, The Word, is its strongest musical and political statement to date.
The album kicks off with “We Work,” a blunt declaration of working-class disgust aimed at the pundits and politicians who pretend to speak for or represent the people. “I know it’s a waste of time to explain to a man like you / All the shit and the dirt and the smoky haze of a world that you thought you knew,” sings Teret, whose winsome tone brings a slightly countrified Jackson Browne to mind. “They will never understand what we do, because we work, we work, we work, when they tell us to.” The squalling guitar solo toward the end of this track is one of several sections that display the group’s musical progression since its 2014 debut, The 10,000 Things.
Sutherland is in a class of his own as a singer. His raw, gravelly vocals convey considerable emotional heft even at their most subdued; when he raises the volume and cracks through that range, it knocks you over every time. On “My Privilege,” Sutherland nails the delivery with the skill of a master carpenter. And on the two songs he sings in Spanish, “Principe Azul” and “Sólo le pido A Dios,” he proves he’s equally adept in that tongue.
But wait — who’s singing that high counterpoint on “Principe”? There’s no female guest vocalist credited in the liner notes. Turns out that’s Teret, too, breaking out an impressive falsetto. As Joe Sweeney noted in a review of the three-track “digital-virtual-video” EP Snaex made last year, which included this song, it was originally recorded by Uruguayan singer-songwriter Eduardo Mateo. “Sólo Le Pido A Dios” (“I Only Ask of God”) is also a cover of a tune by a South American artist, Argentine singer León Gieco. Gieco’s protest song has become an anthem since its release in 1978, and Snaex’ take is all the more subversive in light of the fascism and racism now threatening both our continents. You may not understand all the words, but The Word understands you.