Serpente Masjien (2015) is one of those albums, when the opening riff of the opening track comes on, where you think, hmm, nice, low-key blues rock groove going on here. And you have pretty much the same thought when the second track slinks in. By the 10th cut that is about all you can say for the record. Actual, hummable tunes are thin on the ground. Well, non-existent, really. Mostly it’s just Sannie Fox spitting out her lyrics. At the end of the set nothing sticks in the memory as, well, memorable.
Fox was the front woman for Machineri, which has either broken up or is on hiatus, and for this debut solo album she’s stuck to the conceptual framework of that band. For that one must give her credit, for sticking to her guns and not suddenly coming out as a sensitive singer songwriter with acoustic backing and subtle drum programming.
The song titles are enigmatic. The lyrics are expressionistic and poetic, I guess, narrative vignettes; a few tracks contain “explicit language.” The musicianship is solid. The band plays mostly heavy and simple. Sometimes too simple; one longs for fiery lead guitar. Track for track each song is quite a good performance and the production values are solid. It’s the lack of variety and tunes that palls after a while.
Having said that, the two final “official” cuts on the album (before the 3 bonus tracks), “Sea Skull” and “Call,” do shine more than the tracks preceding them because they have the most tune, the most emotion and the most wonderment of the 13 tracks on offer. That is to say, they are the two most distinctive tracks amidst some ultimately pretty dull fare. “Sea Skull” is the closest the album gets to a guitar rave up, with something of a tune and some singing to complement the heavy riffing. The vocals on “Call” seem to be inspired by Alison Kraus from Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and the atmospherics are quite appealing.
Well, then we get to “Titan Love,” the first bonus track, a demo apparently, and this, too, is quite a bit different to the rest and one wonders why it was not included in the main set. Damn me, the second bonus track, “With Light,” is quite nice too, with a lilting acoustic thing going on.
Sadly the final bonus cut, “Wuthering Heights,” is not the Kate Bush song, or does not appear to be. Heavy on the digital delay guitar effect. Fades quickly from sight.
The above were my thoughts after listening to the album once. I then listened again and much the same impression remains. The lyrics are interesting yet the basic tempo of all the cuts is a lazy lope, which is a fine groove on its own, but after a while one really starts hoping for a differentiation in tempo. And for an actual tune that Sannie Fox sings. It seems, when she wails, that she has a fine voice and would be able to do a proper melody justice. As a non-musician I always wonder how one learns to play these things that are seemingly based only on a groove and no tune.
To paraphrase Robert Christgau, there is nothing here that merits an independent existence outside of the context of the album. There is just no attention grabber here. The album has no legs. There is sound, not a lot of fury, and in the end it signifies nothing. Pursue your vision by all means but if it is such a tedious vision, why inflict it on others and expect them to pay for it and also expect them to give you kudos for it?
Here’s the thing: I’ve listened to the album twice and there is no incentive to listen to it again.