It’s not often that I don’t feel up to the task of reviewing a particular CD. I’m a self-admitted music snob, so Lord knows I have an opinion on everything (much to the chagrin of my friends). But it’s different in the case of Serpents for Eggs. Oh sure, I’m pretty passionate about this release — in other words, stop reading and buy it now — so that’s not what’s stopping me. I just don’t feel tough enough to really talk about this album. Many times, I’ve been afraid the music was going to turn on me and kick my skinny little butt twelve times over. So if I’m a little black and blue by the review’s end, you’ll know why.
I’ll admit it… we here at Opus love S.S. Bountyhunter. It’s kind of like Pitchfork’s Radiohead fetish. Well, not that bad, but pretty darn close. A lot of it has to do with their live shows at Cornerstone, which are about as notorious as any Cornerstone show can be, Michael Knott notwithstanding. And their self-titled, self-released debut backed it all up.
A heady mix of electronica, surf, and some horror movie soundtrack, it had bravado enough to spare. And then there were the lyrics. Here was a band full of self-confessed Christians singing songs about murder, assassinations, breaking ribcages, and all other sorts of cheerful Sunday school imagery. It depicted spiritual warfare by way of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with .44 magnums and garrote wire taking the Sword of the Spirit’s place. And then the band disappeared, or so it seemed. Little did we know they were just planning their next attack. And now it’s time to hit the floor once again ’cause the bounty’s coming in. And they’re back with a vengeance.
Clocking in at just over 37 minutes, Serpents for Eggs is compact and armed to the teeth. Much of the album’s previous surf-influenced sounds are gone. Instead, the music relies more on jagged electronics and sinister atmospherics. From the very first moment, the album makes for the jugular and never lets go. With seething guitars and new wave-inspired synthwork (think a really pissed off Faint), it’s already a disturbing affair. And then come the vocals. I’m not sure which induces more thrills and chills; John Deas’ sinister whispers or Becky Plemon’s cold, detached cooing. Choose your poison, because it really doesn’t matter.
I’m sure many Christians will have a hard time digesting the themes that S.S. Bountyhunter works into their music. The lyrical content is far darker and more disturbing than their previous album. But there is a method behind all of the wide-eyed madness, a reason for all of the bloodshed. If the first album is about the thrill of the chase, Serpents for Eggs is about being broken by a trial by fire. Lyrics like “I never suffered so much as when you offered to clean my wounds” paint a picture of helplessness quite in line with many of the Psalms. But with “Mystery” comes the redemption, as Plemon sings “Would you be worth the bones I break?/Oh yeah… and that’s how I love you” over an ever-increasing torrent of keys and guitars.
Most might look at S.S. Bountyhunter’s amalgam of Tarantino-esque lyricism, B-movie inspired creepiness, and chaotic electronica, and chalk the whole thing up to kitsch. But the ferocity that S.S. Bountyhunter breeds into their music takes any such notion into the back alley and gives it a solid pounding. Then again, I suppose you could look at it both ways. I confess that much of my love for S.S. Bountyhunter stems from the sheer insanity of their music (à la my passion for Hong Kong action flicks). But I love the fact that it’s Christians putting this stuff out, that it’s Christians who are pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable.
I think that’s why I find this album so friggin’ tough. I love the fact that it might offend some, that it’s not afraid to challenge the notion of what Christians can and should do as artists. But I wouldn’t condone S.S. Bountyhunter so much if they didn’t have a mission, a reason for all of their rhymes. I think it’s that sense of purpose that I admire the most.
And did I mention the music kicks ass?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need some bandaids.