Snakes Alive!

San Diego's incendiary Hot Snakes keep it real.

Seems Hot Snakes lead singer-guitarist Rick Froberg not only doesn't give a hoot about self-promotion but, even though he's got an awesomely aggressive punk-rock album called Suicide Invoice hot off the skillet, also seems humbly unaware of the San Diego band's incredible strength. "If we're any better than other bands, I dunno why. You got me," says the former Drive Like Jehu frontman.

After the dissolution of Jehu, a notoriously abrasive early '90s band, Froberg and Rocket from the Crypt lead vocalist-guitarist Rick Reis (also an ex-member of Drive Like Jehu) formed the Hot Snakes as a side project. But with the band's heavy, screeching second full-length igniting an underground buzz, the foursome of Froberg, Reis, keyboard player and bassist Gar Wood and drummer Jsinclair (a.k.a. the Delta 72's Jason Kourkounis) are giving the Hot Snakes full-time attention.

In keeping with the modesty angle, Froberg refuses to sell the band's live show with bells and whistles. "We just play," he says. "There's really not much special about it. It's just like listening to the record, only louder and people are rioting around in front of you."

The vehement, dark songwriting, intense, strained wails and bass so booming it rattles your insides make it hard to imagine the Hot Snakes leaving any audience in one piece. Still, Froberg claims it can happen.

"I hope I don't have a sea of blank expressions staring back at me, which is a drag," he says. "But if that's their idea of having a good time, I can't knock it. It's definitely more fun when people are participating and getting involved and having fun. You can't make people do that, but you hope that they'll do it."

Although he's painfully aware of what it takes to stand apart from today's shallow and commercialized punk scene, Froberg is reluctant to claim that the band upholds certain values. "We know it's a dated art-form, rock and roll," he says. "Everyone's doing it. But we think there's certain ingredients missing, and that's nothing complicated at all: earnestness or sincerity. I know it's gonna sound corny, but, you know, [the key is] committing yourself to the moment or sticking your neck out a little more."
Jenny Tatone

The Hot Snakes play Friday, Aug. 30, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 9 pm. $10. 21+.


Sonic Séance

Quix*o*tic wants to know: Do you believe in ghosts?

A strangely haunted aura surrounds the music and visual aesthetic of the Washington, D.C., trio Quix*o*tic.

Its threadbare, almost hollow-sounding, garage-soul songs are smudged with ghostly traces of antique popular music and delivered with a melancholy beauty. Quix*o*tic is like a sonic séance, in which the spirits and souls of long-forgotten torch-song singers are channeled through the band.

The self-proclaimed "gloomy soul" group is led by former Slant 6 singer-guitarist Christina Billotte and her sister, Mira, who shares vocal duties and plays drums. Bassist Mick Barr (who also plays in the prog-metal band Orthrelm) replaced original bassist Brendan Majewski after the trio's 1999 debut album, Night For Day. Quix*o*tic's recently released second album, Mortal Mirror, further elucidates the group's allure, with the sisters' eerie echoes of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday patched onto single-note guitar lines, fuzz bass and lightly brushed drums.

"We don't intentionally try to sound like a specific time period," Christina says. "But I think the simplicity of the instrumentation makes it sound more like older music."

Quix*o*tic was born in Mira's apartment in Baltimore, and the sisters admit their sound was affected by the mood of that city. "It has an old, dilapidated feeling, kind of lost in time," Mira says. Just as the band is attuned to its surroundings, it likewise picks up on the most beautiful and haunting elements of the cover-song selections. Mortal Mirror includes fantastic revisions of Black Sabbath's "Lord of This World," Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park" and Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is." Christina says they choose cover songs "when you feel something from the song and think that you can pass on that feeling."

In its visual covers, too, the band goes for the hauntingly eternal. The trio appeared as ghosts on the face of its debut. Mortal Mirror's cover art features a hazy, streaked black-and-white photograph depicting the trio seated around a table, casting shadows in multiple directions. The sisters, clothed in vintage dresses, gaze blankly away from each other. Barr obscures his face with a sweatshirt hood.

Its aesthetic may be ambiguous and spooky, but Quix*o*tic is primarily all about soul. Explains Mira, "I express myself with music in a way that can't be done with words or anything else."
Dave Clifford

Quix*o*tic opens for Sonic Youth on Friday, Aug. 30, at Crystal Ballroom (1332 W Burnside St., 225-5555 ext. 8811, 9 pm, $18, all ages) and plays with Beachwood Sparks and Jenny Toomey on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at the Blackbird (3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949, 9:30 pm, cover, 21+).


HISS & vinegar


It's August. The Music Desk is crusted with spilled gin and tonic. Most of the pilfering layabouts we call "music writers" are either on "vacation" (read: rehab) or "working other jobs" (read: pleasuring baggy-faced dowagers and cane-wielding widowers at discreet resorts on the coast). And the interns? Let's just say the interns are looking poorly. We caught a couple of them talking about something called "the Geneva Convention" the other day. Kim and Godfre won't do that again--but nor will they be able to write record reviews, at least until their knuckles heal and we remove the clamps.

All this helps explain why SONIC REDUCER, THE ONLY RECORD-REVIEW COLUMN THAT MATTERS hasn't appeared much in these pages lately. So we decided we'd take a run through some highlights delivered by the mailman (whom we strangely resemble) in the last two weeks. So here goes, in no particular order:

NEKO CASE: BLACKLISTED (Bloodshot). We like Neko Case. She makes us feel "alive." She does a lot of hickster wailing on Blacklisted, but in her case that's allowed.

PSEUDOPOD: SELF-TITLED (Interscope). When is someone going to do something about jam-rock, anyway?

JULEE CRUISE: THE ART OF BEING A GIRL (Water Music). Who knew the Twin Peaks chanteuse was still alive? Well, she is, though she's looking a bit like David Bowie on a rough morning these days. The Art of Being a Girl is flaccid "weird atmosphere" pop in the Goldfrapp vein. Which, come to think, Cruise sort of pioneered. Last track, it'll take you back to those clove-smoking high-school days, and that's all we'll say.

V/A: TOTAL LEE!: THE SONGS OF LEE HAZLEWOOD (Astralwerks). The indie-rock all-star crowd, or at least the subset including Lambchop, Jarvis Cocker, Calexico and Tindersticks, romps around in Hazlewood's delightfully overgrown garden. Hazlewood wrote "These Boots are Made for Walkin'," a fair indication of his aims and desires as a songwriter. This '60s/'70s fondue is pretty delish, actually--in fact, Evan Dando singing Lee Hazlewood beats the tar out of Evan Dando doing most anything else. Weirdly, recommended.

V/A: DRESSED IN BLACK: A TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY CASH (Dualtone). Even we are getting freakin' sick of Johnny Cash. Jesus Christ, if the current overkill of re-releases and tribs marks Cash turning 70, what happens when he dies? Anyway. You should actually buy this if you've got an ounce of country in you, and here's why: Hank III doing "Wreck of the Old '97"; Robbie Fulks doing "Cry Cry Cry"; Mandy Barnett singing the chick part on "Jackson." The Rev. Horton Heat is also on here, sounding exactly as you'd expect, but buy it anyway.

JAY FARRAR: THIRDSHIFTGROTTOSLACK EP (Artemis). A tissue-thin, five-song, pay-the-rent EP, paper-weighted by a Tom Rothrock remix. A sad man gets sadder.

SUPREME BEINGS OF LEISURE: DIVINE OPERATING SYSTEM (Palm). Oy, it's disco! Everyone loves disco!

ALLISON MOORER: MISS FORTUNE (Universal South). Dumb, overproduced Nashville crap. But not entirely unlistenable, so there's a victory for Righteousness.

There's more, of course. But that's all we can stand for now.

Keep those cards and letters coming!