October 12, 2016

LP: Sneaks - Gymnastics

Sneaks crafts a fascinating album of post-punk nursery rhymes.

The Washington, D.C. punk scene is familiar with weirdos. For the past three decades, bands that toy with traditional notions of how punk should sound have found a home in the country’s capital, making music that is often overtly political, experimental, and innovative. This legacy has been carried on in recent years by the Sister Polygon record label, run by the members of Priests, which has released some of the most genuinely radical and exciting music out there. In early 2015, Sister Polygon signed a new artist, Sneaks. Sneaks is the solo project of Eva Moolchan, and her first self-titled release felt totally unprecedented; a unique collection of songs that upended all sorts of expectations. It was a breath of fresh air, and heavily on rotation for me that year. In July of 2016, it was announced that the record, re-titled Gymnastics, would be getting an official re-release by Merge Records. Since then, Sneaks has only grown more popular. Moolchan is the kind of weirdo that punk needs today, and it’s clear the world is catching on.

Gymnastics is a taut, focused album that places rhythm and wordplay over flashy sonic gimmickry. With tough, funky bass lines reminiscent of Pylon or Bush Tetras and sing-song spoken wordplay backed by the steady pulse of her drum machine, Moolchan has crafted an album of post-punk nursery rhymes that are both catchy and provocative. Moolchan culls her lyrics from overheard snippets, schoolyard chants, and other resonant phrases. On “New Taste,” she rattles through a list of seemingly related words. Arm rest. Photo frame. Honey oats. More rain. The words come together to create a sort of abstracted narrative, a portrait of the artist as a person in the world. The song eschews repetition and instead focsues on individual words instead of recurrent phrases. Most of the songs on Gymnastics are centered around the latter, with certain words repeated until they become mantras, almost magical incantations. On “This Is,” Moolchan lists off different forms of education until the words blend into each other. “No Problem” is made up of the same phrase repeated over and over again in different intonations. Each song strips language to its core, removing words from their usual context to show how bizarre and powerful it can be when it doesn’t cohere to a prescribed narrative. The power of Gymnastics lies in its contradictions, in its refusal to stay in one place. Just when you expect one thing from Moolchan, she gives you another. Sneaks arose from the punk scene, but Gymnastics isn’t a strictly punk album. At times it is dissonant, at times danceable. Sparse and dense, difficult yet accessible. It is an album that one can listen to and tune out, but it’s also an album that rewards intense focus. On each listen, new patterns emerge, new phrases stick out. You can listen to Gymnastics in any sort of mood and get something out of it. The fact that Moolchan doesn’t confine herself to any genre or other sort of expected mold ends up being Gymnastics’ greatest gift.


Listen to Sneaks on bandcamp.

Eva Silverman is a NYC/DC based writer and Libra. She enjoys experimental feminist literature, dogs, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She plays music occasionally as default handshake. You can follow her on Twitter and email her at evogirl98@gmail.com.