Apparently, Sneaks needs some time for her vanity.
“Sanity,” the fourth track off her newest record, Happy Birthday, contains what you may have come to expect from the 25-year old, Washington D.C.-hailing artist: flaring, dubbed beats, Eva Moolchan’s shadowy voice and a synth bass that hems it all together. “If the kids complain, let ‘em complain. I need some time for my vanity,” she supposes during the chorus.
Of course, a few years ago, that same description translated to a much different sound to Sneaks fans. In the era of Gymnastics and It’s A Myth, her first two albums, she was like a post-punk backpacker, keeping to a drum machine, her electric bass and lyrics straight out of a scrapbook, creating songs that marked the middle of the spectrum where ESG and M.I.A. are the two extremes.
With 2019’s Highway Hypnosis, her sound expanded. It bubbled into a dance/electro pop project where the nuances of her bass were replaced with binary studio sheen. Happy Birthday is some more of the same. But, in listening to it, you don’t think about throwbacks like “Inside Edition” or “X.T.Y.,” you’re too busy bouncing along to it’s club beats and atmospheric synths.
You still get to hear her strumming ear-worm riffs on the bass on the two beginning tracks “Do You Want to Go Out Tonight,” and “Faith,” but that quickly gets put on the wayside in favor of synth bass and stabbing keys. “Scorpio on Your Side” shows how well she’s able to craft earworm electro-pop, sounding almost like Stretch 2-era Arca. “Winter Weather” has the anatomy of a Princess Nokia trap banger. And “Sanity,” coming in at a whopping six minutes (most of her songs are neatly wrapped up under three minutes), contains the pure momentum of a blurry night out.
On prior Sneak albums, her lyrics were half-fun, half-brooding and, for the most part, half-told. Their mystery created a unique charm and her execution made them endlessly fun to chant along to. You may find yourself singing along to Happy Birthday, but chances are you’ll come to realize it lacks that oomph. At times, she sounds plainly disinterested in both writing and singing; one can only repeat “Mars in Virgo” so many times before it gets tired. The lacking lyrical and vocal performance is somewhat made up by “This World” and “You’ve Got a Lot of Issues,” where Sneaks refuses to pussyfoot around systemic discrimination. Here, she sounds as earnest as she’s ever been.
This release basically confirms that the Sneaks with the live bass and the allusions to Devo is gone. Get those kicks elsewhere. But if you’re looking for some release in the form of bulging bass and rattling beats, quite frankly, you may be better off getting your kicks elsewhere as well.