by Niccolo Porcello (@niccoloporcello)
On a Monday in mid-September, Snakeskin, primarily the project of Shanna Polley (who goes by the eponymous ‘Snake’), uploaded two short videos to the band’s Facebook page. Entitled “CREEP CRAWLER” and “DANG KID / BIG BALLER” respectively, the videos both feature Snake ensconced by refractions of her own image accompanied by witch-house-y backing tracks. The music in the videos sounds nothing like Snakeskin’s remarkable debut LP Hangnail, released seven months prior to the upload. “CREEP CRAWLER” is an airy mid-tempo dance track, hypnotic in the way that so much 2000’s electronica was, while “DANG KID / BIG BALLER” sounds like Badalamenti making uptempo lounge. They are both astounding snippets that vacillate between haunting and energizing, full of sonic references that melt into one another. Taken together, the videos are a composite showcase of the reflections and diffusions that are the building blocks of the liminal world that Polley has created across Snakeskin’s robust body of work.
That world, beginning with 2013’s COLLECTION OF HOME RECORDINGS, all the way through Snakeskin’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” on the excellent Post-Trash: Volume Four compilation, contains some of the most consistently interesting recordings of this past decade. Following Snakeskin’s sound from COLLECTION…, through the full band Hangnail, to the recent “Cloudbusting” cover, it is possible to pick up on a continuous thread that is not so much emblematic of a musical evolution as it is of an exquisite refinement. This honing is what makes Snakeskin so remarkable: outside of Polley’s astonishing voice, there are few musical constants across Snakeskin’s oeuvre, and yet each entry is undoubtably of the same origin.
The strange digi-world explored in the September clips is the expanded world from which the solo, mostly guitar-driven COLLECTION… arose. Likewise, the verdant authorship on display on (the impossibly good) Hangnail, a power-rock album that maybe sounds like what it feels like to be alive in New York City, is clearly the same as that of 2016’s seen EP, an 11-minute bite of shuddering baroque pop that is every bit as interesting as anything Big Indie ever produced, although the two records sound little alike. In an interview with Audia Music, Polley augments this argument, providing a video that contrasts four released versions of the song “Alone in a Crowded Room,” all made at different points in the past 5 years. The Hangnail version, full and powerful loud and recorded in a studio, is no less moving than the bedroom version from 2015’s sleep well little prince. “Alone in a Crowded Room,” a song as good as a song can possibly be, is at once tender and aggressive, defiant and resilient. Although each rendition is different, each version carries this weight; it is in this listening experience that the nuance of Snakeskin’s work comes to bear. This remarkable songwriting feat is what is so entrancing about Snake/Polley/Snakeskin’s multimedia body of work. While it is multifaceted, encompassing image and sound, even the most left of turns, (see: the aforementioned uploads) present as cogent statements. Everything is adaptable; and anything can become that of Snakeskin. This theory is extenuated by the “Cloudbusting” cover. Snake’s voice is presented in stark harmony above muted synths, an inversion of the very 80’s sound of the original. Here, the famous song about a boy’s loss of his father is rendered ominous, and the cover distinctly Snakeskin’s.
Snakeskin’s output is fascinating, and I’m not sure that attempting to wrap it neatly into a few paragraphs is entirely possible. It is a deeply enjoyable canon though, and even more so when things are not how they initially seem, as is often the case in their work. Snakeskin operates as a perfect vehicle to explore voice as a dominate mode of communication over genre, something unusual and worth paying attention to.
Check out the premiere of Snakeskin’s “Cloudbusting” music video directed by Will Bottini, and read below for his thoughts about the video.
“Kate Bush wrote “Cloudbusting” after reading Peter Reich’s memoir, A Book of Dreams, which recounted his time with his father, Wilhelm Reich. Reich, a psychoanalyst, invented the rain-making device called the cloud buster late in a career which ended in controversy, fraud, and imprisonment. Reich would die in prison, his life’s work of publications burned and destroyed by the US government. Kate Bush’s lyrics are sung from the perspective of Peter Reich, looking back with wonder, then helplessness, then a matured reflection on his dreamlike life with Wilhelm. Snakeskin’s cover of “Cloudbusting,” and its music video, directed by William Bottini, share this tension between nostalgia, a desire to change the past, and detached reflection. In the video, however, the story is the story of the moon reflecting on the destruction of the earth by terrestrial and extra-terrestrial forces.
Attempting to reconcile with the destruction of the planet, the moon sends a hero, played by Snake, to a mysterious version of earth to recover an “earth seed” which she hopes might reboot the cosmic forces that produce planets and allow the moon and her earth one more chance to try again.
Inspired by early 3D adventure games, this story is told with a loose, experimental visual style which explores high and low forms of 3D graphics as narrative devices. Several scenes in the video, for instance, are created using the messy, angular geometry of Google Earth’s 3D satellite views, where other scenes feature intentional errors and glitches.”