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Sneaks - Highway Hypnosis Music Album Reviews

On her third album, the magnetic D.C. multi-instrumentalist pushes from post-punk toward a new clutch of electronic influences, seemingly sorting them as she goes.

Eva Moolchan’s first two albums as Sneaks sound fearless. They move at high velocities and seem to orbit imaginary worlds, weaving through conversational fragments in less than 20 minutes. Those records positioned the Washington, D.C., singer and multi-instrumentalist as a kind of post-punk Sappho, with brief songs that were deeply personal but endlessly open to interpretation. Between releasing 2017’s It’s a Myth and recording the new Highway Hypnosis, Moolchan toured extensively, new experiences soundtracked by a fresh set of influences and interests. She gravitated from the chintzy post-punk that animated her earlier work toward hip-hop and electronic music. Highway Hypnosis attempts to articulate those two years as a listener and artist, but Moolchan now sounds untethered, plunging into these new forms and ideas but often losing what once seemed to be sure footing.

Moolchan recorded Highway Hypnosis at Brooklyn’s now-defunct Silent Barn, playing and singing nearly everything, from her customary bass to samples and synths. On introductory spins, Highway Hypnosis sounds cocky and sharp—hearing Moolchan blabber in a made-up language to a dub beat during “Addis,” for instance, is goofy but captivating. But it soon becomes stale, the underdeveloped songs leaving a numbing aftertaste. That dub beat begins to sway like a dinghy on choppy water during a rainstorm—unsure of itself, splintering at the center.

In the past, angular sparsity served Moolchan well, but this just feels bloated. At just less than 30 minutes, Highway Hypnosis is in fact her longest record, and it feels longer still. Even the opening title track, where a pitch-shifted vocal loop serves as the song’s backbone, seems to stretch far beyond its meager two minutes, the pastiche more suffocating than hypnotic. Centered around a grating frog-croak of a synth, “Cinnamon” moves like a bibber slogging through a muddied field or a wet snow after the bar has closed. “Yamaha chang in the ring yeah/Oh my god, Lionel Richie’s dead, yeah,” she deadpans blithely, the nonsense enhancing the stupor. Worse still, “The Way It Goes” plays out like a half-hearted SoundCloud demo; the Princess Nokia-indebted beat might tempt you to move. But it is listless and recycled, the kind of thing that prompts you to step outside of the party in search of fresh air.

There is one moment of brilliance near the end, at least. “A Lil Close” opens with an assault of pulsating, seedy, late-night synths and sequencers that boil over like kettles in an otherwise silent house. A frantic, dissonant bassline emerges, evoking the skeletal freakiness of Suburban Lawns and the ice-cold chill of Sonic Youth. The song exists at a truly joyous, unexpected saddle between post-punk and hip-hop. The gears shift with the energy of a skateboarder’s perfectly executed ollie or a figure skater’s combination jump. But then the album’s presiding smog cuts back in, and you’re left clouded out by it, stuck to wander disappointedly through Moolchan’s unsorted new influences.

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