Eva Moolchan’s new album as Sneaks, “Gymnastics,” is astonishingly short, clocking in at just over 14 minutes. Most of the ten tracks feature little more than a drum machine, a bassline, and Moolchan’s voice. The album is a work of extreme minimalism that comes together through an incredibly tight flow, making “Gymnastics” an exercise in bringing the most out of bare bones.
“Gymnastics” begins with a semi-slow drum line and a bass kick before Moolchan begins singing, and this is more or less the way the album sounds throughout. The most significant change is the opening seconds of “Figure 8,” when all you hear is a cowbell interspersed with the drums before an abrupt cutoff. Even lyrically, the album is so bare that much of what Moolchan says amounts to little more than a series of repeated simplistic phrases. The repetition on songs like “No Problem,” has the effect of turning these simple phrases into emotionally potent lines. On other songs, however, it sounds off-putting, like Moolchan is being excessively vague or speaking like one would to a toddler. The bassline is loud and rhythmic enough to create a weird balancing effect. This effect is the album’s biggest strength.
The trancelike sound created by the meshing of the vocals and bass makes “Gymnastics” tremendously easy to get sucked into. Songs like “Down in the Woods” or “This Is” have this hypnotic effect and it turns the spoken-word-style lyrics into something incredibly evocative and impactful despite their simplicity. Here is where the simplicity of the songs gets morphed into an asset. “New Taste” is more or less a song composed of two word couplets, but the rhythm transforms it into a fountain of poetic waxing that builds to a wave of sadness at the end. Similarly, the album’s liveliest, and probably strongest, song, “X.T.Y.,” an ode to Moolchan’s anxiety, features a rumbling, jittery bass that combines with the song’s rapid semi-spoken vocals so as to create an incredibly representative picture of anxiety in action, especially as Moolchan trails out saying, “X.T.Y. makes me feel alive.”
Because of the nature of the songs, the album has a remarkably consistent flow and creates a feeling of malaise throughout. First there’s the song that hates on double standards (“Tough Luck”). It is followed by the aforementioned “X.T.Y.” and “No Problem,” which are orchestrated such that the listener is left with a feeling of uneasiness by the time “Down in the Woods” starts. The album has a sort of similar sound throughout—akin to a darker and more musically restricted “Spiderland” by Slint. Although there is an uneasy progression to a less unhappy end, the bass is murky enough to make a listener question the feelings of the last few songs. Furthermore, although the end is brighter, the music still has the same trancelike effect that it has had throughout the rest of the album.
At the album’s energetic peaks, Sneaks is reminiscent of X-Ray Spex on “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” On “X.T.Y.” this is especially true, where Moolchan’s singing is similar to that of a more restrained version of Poly Styrene. On the other end of the album’s energy, Moolchan sounds like Courtney Barnett on songs like “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)”—both in the energy and in the outward simplicity of the lyrics during the album’s calmest moments. Of course, there are countless potential comparisons to make to “Gymnastics,” but the real question is whether or not Sneaks is close to living up to them. As intriguing as the album is, the answer seems to be no. “Gymnastics,” for all its strengths, is too simplistic and far too monotonous to be a truly great album. Nonetheless, it is a weird, quietly intense album that is immensely fascinating for a listen.
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