When the Connecticut band Snake Oil released its album Dying of Sunsets this June, it wasn’t just a departure for the group. It was, in many ways, a revelation.
When the band began in 2011, it was a collective of musicians around the country who contributed remotely to a series of instrumental releases. After breaking out with a full album in 2011, Snake Oil gradually moved from a studio project to a performance piece, playing with bands like Mates of State, Acid Mothers Temple, and Deerhoof.
Then a recent commission by NPR’s StoryCorps brought the group together once again, with a lineup that ended in the creation of Dying of Sunsets.
The pocket-grooved psychedelia found on Dying of Sunsets is the result of years of changes and purifications that brought the collective down to a core group. It’s also a departure from the band’s roots as a remote collaboration. Unlike previous releases, it was recorded live to two-inch tape by engineer Charles Burst and band leader Jason Labbe, bringing the band together to record simultaneously for the first time in its history.
The resulting record breathes. It brings you the band in real time, with all the humanity that comes from live recording. The band is gelled, with meditative rhythms and woody bouncing bass. Recorded music makes repeatable what is otherwise ephemeral, and never more so than recorded live without a net.
It also brings in the introduction of vocals and lyrics, performed by singer and keyboardist Emily Lee (Shearwater, Loma, Stephen Brodsky). On tracks like “Pattern of Skulls” and “The Cloud Above,” the vocals deliver psychedelic word paintings that evoke ominous and fantastical natural scenes, sublime but never bucolic.
The album gives each player room to stretch out, each alternating between repeating passages, ornamental sounds, and taking center stage. Guitarist Kelly L’Heureux (Atrina) plays all of these roles gracefully, switching between cleaner melodic lines and washed out backdrops.
Listening to Dying of Sunsets, you can hear the history of the band, and feel the backgrounds of the musicians. The resulting rough jazz is heady, but danceable and accessible. It comes through strong on tracks like “Distance From Ferns,” a traditionally Snake Oil instrumental track with a roiling and infectious groove somewhere between Black Sabbath and William Onyeabor.
Dying of Sunsets is out now on New Haven’s Safety Meeting Records, and available for immediate download on Bandcamp. Click below to get a sonic taste.