GIGsoup may have missed the boat around the time of release, but a review of The Snails’ ‘Songs from the Shoebox’ is a very necessary one.
Samuel T. Herring (or Hemlock Ernst, his emcee handle) might be one of the best, most charismatic frontmen currently working in music. This can easily be proven by his unhinged performances on stage, or his magnificent vocal delivery on ‘Singles’, the 2014 release by his band Future Islands. Now, this brings us to The Snails – a supergroup comprised of Future Islands, Small Sur and Nuclear Power Pants members, among others, that have come together to make wacky rock music that perfectly matches the eccentricity of Herring.
In the Snails, Herring is known as Sammy Snail, and he is backed up by fellow snails with whom he shares accommodation in a shoebox (the album’s namesake). Their hobbies include playing basketball and making pretty amazing rock n roll.
We get a taste of how out-there rock music can be and often deserves to be on the album’s opener ‘Tight Side of Life’, with booming guitar chords and strange non-transitioning tempos. While the track puts the band in a fine light, things don’t hit home properly until the track ‘Shoebox’, a song that manages to blend the strangeness of Sammy and his pals but this time coupled with incredibly pretty music. The song is made up of expressive cadences and charming horns over the daftness of lyrics like “bring me my socks” and what have you.
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The other song on the record that couples weirdness with melodic, harmonic beauty is ‘Parachutes’, with its sad, loveable chorus, over a standard but fitting chord progression. At this point in the album, Herring’s strained vocals enter new depths of strange beauty on their own.
Other highlights from ‘Songs from the Shoebox’ include the alto saxophone-driven ‘Tea Leaves’ and ‘Barnacle on a Surfboard (Barnacle Boogie)’ which involves the best mention of surfboards in music since Beyoncé kept mentioning them for no reason on ‘Drunk in Love’. Other songs one might dig are the two that wrap up the album, ‘Do Like You Do’, which is a slow reprise of ‘Shoebox’, and ‘Snails Christmas (I Want a New Shell)’ which is about not wanting any of the uber-material things that others are getting for Christmas, and just wanting a new shell, a relatable subject for other snails.
There are probably a lot of fuddy duddies out there who might be put off by the novelty aspect that the record often leans towards, but overall, it’s a very enjoyable listen. The fun is off the charts, the grooviness is snail-tastic, and there certainly are enough memorable tunes to keep you going back.
Personality, a sense of humour, catchiness, ‘Songs from the Shoebox’ has it all. It might not go down as one of the most talked about albums of 2016, but with any luck, it will leave somewhat of a trail behind.
‘Songs from the Shoebox’ is out now via Ideas For Housecrafts
This Snails article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor. Photo by Coen Rees