Austin’s The SniFFs belong with those of us who enjoy nearly every sort of music, so long as it’s good. They describe their sound as “a little Dallas smut, a dash of swamp air, and a mojo hand”; a vodka martini made with whiskey in a crankcase, stirred with Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders; and, less metaphorically, as inspired by ’70s rock, avant-garde pop, and low-down blues/R&B. Pretty close to the truth on all counts, I’d say. On their nine-song début Barrio Element, a bracing and fast-paced set that will find you pressing the Repeat button, the SniFFs–Mike Parent (guitar and vocals), Rafa Ibarra II (bass), and THE Nick Curran (percussion, occasional guitar, and production), with drums on this project by Charlie Jones–divide their attention between punk-inflected rave-ups and grimy, working-class rockers, delivered with palpable energy, attitude, and melody.
“Gaston Ave. Street Habit” has a post-punk-circa-1980 edge. Denny Freeman’s electric piano adds bit of Stooges flavor to an arrangement dominated by jackhammer drumming and Parent’s slide guitar. It may be more the tonal quality of Parent’s voice than any glam or punk sound inherent in the song, but “Surveil” for some reason strikes me as Bowie-esque, or like something out of the Generation X songbook, though it’s closer to something The Clash might have written at some point later in their evolution. “Scraps Of Town” fits in this sonic grouping as well, with brutal rhythm guitar as metallic as vintage Gang of Four, and skanky, semi-funk breakdowns and a wild, extended outro guitar solo, both of which could have been inspired by either Talking Heads or Richard Hell’s Voidoids.
A few outliers spice up the playlist immeasurably. The Latin-tinged “Ray Rey” shares a groove, vaguely, with The Champs’ “Tequila,” but would be very much at home on a Cramps or Johnny Thunders album (or possibly even an old ZZ Top record: that’s some dirty lead guitar!). Parent’s vocal is outstanding. “Chainsaws ‘n’ Psycho Swamps” is a rockabilly/trash madman: “Mystery Train” crossed with “Surfin’ Bird.” The hidden track at the end of the disc is a completely reimagined “Wicked Game,” its tempo bumped up significantly, and the moody sultriness of Chris Isaak’s original version transformed into pure power pop with a punk edge, à la Buzzcocks.
Closer to the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, “82” is a perfect little mid-tempo tune from somewhere out of time, loaded with Stones-y swagger and choice lines like “there’s a poster of Sheena Easton and it looks like you/Back in ’82.” The lead guitar’s gritty fills and melodic solo demonstrate Curran’s previously unrecorded familiarity with both Keith’s Chuck Berry-isms and Ronnie’s faux pedal steel bends (“Beast Of Burden,” anyone?). “Waiting For The Law” fits into the same rootsy category, with a yearning vocal and catchy shifts in dynamics. “Phone Booth” has more country-fried guitar, overlaid on a galloping, highly melodic framework reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw’s perfect pop songs. I’m reminded, too, of Alejandro Escovedo’s work during his Rank And File period. That’s good stuff indeed. “Just gimme some fiction/I don’t wanna hear about no real life” is such a wonderful rock ‘n’ roll line, it’s a wonder no one sang it until now.
The AE reference makes a lot of sense, given the breadth of his musical interests, many of which are shared by The SniFFs: pure rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, roots rock, and solid pop songwriting. If you dig any or all of those styles, or if you trust that anything Nick Curran took part in is worth hearing, you ought to be checking out Barrio Element.
I bought this CD from Antone’s Record Shop, online: