Those who have followed Sneaks’ career since her impressive fourteen-minute debut album, Gymnastics, up through her only slightly longer 2017 sophomore record, It’s a Myth, may be surprised to learn that her latest effort, Highway Hypnosis, is just three minutes shy of the combined running time of both previous releases. While this is good news for Sneaks (AKA Eva Moolchan)’s fans whose biggest complaint up to this point has been the ephemerality of her studio albums, with the extended length of this new album comes a shift (Transformation? Evolution?) musically that almost entirely abandons Sneaks’ exclusive bass guitar and drum machine post-punk for a slicker sound that incorporates elements of electro, dub, and trap grooves.
The interior art for Highway Hypnosis features a psychedelic pink and white tunnel that seems to imply you’re entering Sneaks’ world, and the record’s title track, which opens the album, confirms that implication. Over the chanted words, “Highway Hypnosis, Highway Hypnosis…” Moolchan acts as her own hype woman, excitedly yelling things like, “Oh my gosh, Highway Hypnosis is coming out on Merge Records, get it today!” This won’t be the last time Sneaks gives herself props on HH. Moolchan’s new confidence is simultaneously refreshing and whimsical and an obvious reinforcement that what may have been interpreted as a too-cool-for-school attitude on her past releases has been completely thrown out the window.
Sneaks’ new sound brings with it a new self-confidence. The lyrics to “The Way it Goes” have Moolchan displaying an assertive sexuality alongside her skateboarding prowess as she raps, “I’ll wear my hot dress tonight, and I’m gonna look tight, ‘cause the boy’s all right.” Sneaks’ self-hype rears its head again at the end of the brief, chill “Ecstasy” when she chants, “Long live Sneaks, long, long live Sneaks…” The records’ first standout moment arrives with “Suck it Like a Whistle”, a catchy track that sounds like a Public Enemy-style loop slowed waaaayyyy down. As if the song’s title wasn’t confusing enough, Moolchan’s lyrics about Dylan and Julie wanting wasted(?) in their pockets help seal the deal. Still “Suck it Like a Whistle” is hooky as hell and one of Sneaks’ finest moments here or anywhere.
The dubby “Addis” and the hypnotic “Saiditzoneza” are smartly sequenced back-to-back and set things up nicely for the trip-hop-inspired “Money Don’t Grow on Trees”. Moolchan’s lyrical mischievousness finds a fine home on “Cinnamon”, a chill moment reminiscent of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Dear Nora’s collaborative cover of Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz”. Those looking for anything reminiscent of the bass guitar-heavy post-punk tracks Sneaks dropped on her initial releases get a tiny taste in the repetitive, minute-long “Holy Cow Never Saw a Girl Like Her” and the intentionally blasé “And We’re Off”. Highway Hypnosis is concluded with the driving “Hong Kong to Amsterdam”, a track which, with its skittering hi-hat and 80s disco synth blasts, feels like riding on a train where every person aboard is determined to party until they reach their destination.
Although Sneaks’ latest is a definite stylistic departure from both It’s a Myth and Gymnastics, it does grow on you. Highway Hypnosis is Moolchan stretching her legs. Highway Hypnosis is Moolchan refusing to be pigeonholed. But, more than anything, Highway Hypnosis is Moolchan metaphorically shouting, “Sneaks is dead! Love live Sneaks!”