Imagine a band that combines the danceable rhythms of Can, the cryptically intellectual lyricism of Mark E. Smith, and the electronic weirdness and unique fashion sense of Devo, and you’ll start to have an idea of what you’re getting into when you experience the British post-punk trio Snapped Ankles. Utilizing electric guitar and vocals, drums, and homemade synthesizers made out of logs, this London-based art collective have brought their highly energetic second studio album, Stunning Luxury, into existence.
The eerie synths and reverb-heavy percussion that introduce Stunning Luxury’s opening track, “Pestisound (Moving Out)”, instantly conjure feelings of otherworldliness and idiosyncrasy that are only somewhat anchored in reality by singer/guitarist Paddy Austin’s phrase-ending repeated chant of, “We’re moving out, we’re moving out.” It won’t take the entirety of the record’s four-minute introductory song for you to realize you’re settling in for something completely original, yet oddly familiar in a universally primal way, comparable only to the steadfast thrum of your own circulatory system. The stingingly frenetic “Tailpipe” follows and has Austin referencing the deceased American comedian and social satirist Bill Hicks and his famous live rant wherein he encouraged anyone in his audience who worked in marketing to “suck a tailpipe.” After devolving momentarily into an airy hiss, “Tailpipe” morphs into “Letter from Hampi Mountain”. Here, the previous song’s driving tempo continues as Paddy Austin shouts, “Who’d you get a letter from?” before proceeding to namecheck writers, a list from which this reviewer was only able to audibly discern: Isidore Ducasse, J.A. Baker, and William T. Vollman. The excellent “Rechargeable” first gives the illusion of the record’s overall tempo slowing, just before the trio gently squeeze the accelerator, shifting things back up to dancing speed. Three fifths of the way in, the track’s instrumentation pulls back significantly as Austin orates a short, cryptic poem about planned obsolescence and “the stunning luxury of the converted factories.”
Stunning Luxury keeps its listeners’ feet firmly on the dancefloor for the entirety of its first half, and only rarely gives anyone involved a moment’s rest during its second. The first breather arrives with “Skirmish In The Suburbs”. Here, during the initial three minutes of the five-minute number, wavy synths sail hypnotically under echoey beeps and pulses before the beat comes back. “Dial The Rings On A Tree” begins like a dance-punk version of “Baba O’Riley” before transforming into what can only be described as a wonderfully warped electro-jazz cocktail that has the group’s keyboardist, Chestnutt, tossing demented solos all over the song’s ever-present, phase-shifting synthetic through-line. The album’s penultimate track, “Drink and Glide”, is arguably the closest Snapped Ankles come to straight-up rock. However, this similarity is due mostly to the song’s hooky start/stop distorted lead and overall feel rather than it adhering to any traditional rock and roll compositional structure. Still, it’s a thrilling moment and a standout track. Stunning Luxury is concluded with the chilled out “Dream and Formaldehyde”, which, other than a steady click, is the only song on the record absent almost entirely of the trio’s excellent tireless drummer, Zampirolo.
It’s safe to say that no other band in the first half of 2019 has made an album as ambitiously inventive and original-sounding, yet still accessible, as Snapped Ankles has here. Stunning Luxury manages to be simultaneously intelligent, fun, and stylistically innovative without alienating fans of upbeat, danceable electronica or thoughtful, arty post-punk.