Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Good Thing: A Look At The New Sneetches Compilation From Omnivore Recordings

I first got into The Sneetches because the CD I was holding in my hand in the record store so many years ago was on spinART Records and The Apples in Stereo were on spinART. That The Sneetches sounded nothing like The Apples in Stereo was, at first, a small shock. And, I reckon, my story is similar to how a lot of other indie fans ended up listening to a band who had far, far more in common with The Beau Brummels than they did with The Apples in Stereo, Swirlies, or Pavement, or any other band dropping hip platters in the very early years of the Clinton administration.

If you haven't listened to The Sneetches in ages, or if you've never listened to The Sneetches, the band's new compilation, Form Of Play: A Retrospective, out Friday on Omnivore Recordings, is a gift from the heavens. The collection offers up a full 22 tracks that, when taken together in total, make a good case for The Sneetches being one of the very best bands of the Nineties.

One listen to the single mix of "And I'm Thinking", from the classic Blow Out The Sun album, reveals a band that, clearly, owed a huge debt to Sixties stuff like The Left Banke or The Zombies but whose music, in a way, paralleled that made by U.K. bands like Cast and The Boo Radleys. Still, the thing with The Sneetches was that the retro sense of mannered pop was pretty strong and it sometimes obscured the songwriting chops of these players. It was occasionally a case of a listener getting lost while marveling at the band's craft. The elegant "What I Know", for example, shows a refinement and consolidation of the band's approach and one thinks now that it's almost shocking that this wasn't more popular 20-some years ago. There's an economy here that suggests the fellows knew that this sort of material had a timeless appeal, and that they, unlike, say, some acts in the Paisley Underground movement, for example, were not going to get caught up in Sixties trappings too many times, nor were they likely to be pigeonholed as a neo-psychedelic outfit. Still, despite that economy of effort, The Sneetches were never very hip in the way that other bands who looked to the past were; The Sneetches, more in debt to The Cyrkle than The Beatles, just didn't quite get the critical or commercial attention they deserved and yet their skills at this kind of material were so sharp that it remains sad that they weren't the subjects of more praise back then in the post-grunge years.

Elsewhere, "Only For A Moment" charms in the manner of an old, less manic Boyce and Hart number, while "What's In Your Mind" positively crackles with a sense of bright pop business. The members of The Sneetches -- Mike Levy, Matt Carges, Alec Palao, and Daniel Swan -- all seemed to share an affection for that wave of bands both here and on the other side of the Atlantic who rose up in the wake of The Beatles, an affection that, now, makes the music of The Sneetches seem like the imagined back catalog of The Wonders, if you catch my meaning. While "Take My Hand", for example, has a slight psychedelic feel, The Sneetches, like so many of those Sixties (and Sixties-looking) acts, had their sights set more on hitting the Top 40 than any kind of astral plane. "Looking For Something", for example, bounces forward like so many Nuggets-era one-hit wonders and yet it's so perfectly crafted that to compare it to stuff that was, at one point, branded disposable is to do the music a small disservice. And, clearly, what The Sneetches ultimately understood so well is that the pop song is a wonderful form of art. And a great pop song, like "A Good Thing", can be a thing of exquisite beauty and craftsmanship.

That cut, one of the clear highlights here on Form Of Play: A Retrospective, is so good that one wonders why this band never quite got the attention that, say, Jellyfish got. Was it that The Sneetches were more twerp-y and bands like Jellyfish -- funny hats and all -- retained a sense of being rockier? Was it the label hopping? Was it the era? A little hard to compete with Bush and the ghost of Cobain when you're cranking out material that, like "A Good Thing", sounds closer to The Left Banke than anything else.

There are a few songs that I wish had made the cut but my slight disappointment as a long-time Sneetches fan is diminished by my joy at the rarities that are here, and the care that was taken in preparing this overall package. Form Of Play: A Retrospective is the easiest way to dive into this band's history, or rediscover it if you were a lapsed fan. This set reveals, more than I perhaps remembered, that this band was clearly one of the best chamber pop, and power pop, acts from an era that sorely needed some reminders at how pop music was supposed to work. And, thanks to the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings, the legacy of The Sneetches has been restored. Here's hoping that the label reissues even more of this band's fantastic music.

Form Of Play: A Retrospective by The Sneetches is out on Friday from Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Erik Auerbach]