Album of the Day: Sneaks, “Highway Hypnosis”

Sneaks, aka Eva Moolchan, made her name on cool minimalism. With a discerning palette of bass, drum machines, and a slyly monochrome speak-sing, the Washington, D.C. artist created short post-punk songs that felt more like fragments, like snatches of possibility. Her anchor was an unimpeachably great sense of rhythm that made her understated oeuvre feel instantly classic. 

Moolchan’s latest record and second for Merge, Highway Hypnosis, finds her coming deeper into her own beguiling voice. She sounds keenly self-aware of it, placing a cheeky skit right at the beginning: “Oh my gosh, Highway Hypnosis is coming out on Merge Records, get it today!” a voice squeals over a rattling beat. Soon after, on the coasting highlight “Ecstasy,” Moolchan leads a delightful chant: “Long / Live / Sneaks.” These self-referential twists give Highway Hypnosis a fun, conceptual edge. The title of one song, “Addis,” meanwhile, nods to her Ethiopian roots.

That playful personality extends to the record’s inquisitive sound, as Moolchan extends her post-punk patchwork to include swaggering hip-hop and sun-dazzled lover’s rock. Highway Hypnosis rattles and slinks and rumbles with an epic wobble. Moolchan raps about Tech Deck skateboards, money, and an obsessed crush: “Holy cow, I never saw a girl like her!” goes one sticky refrain, turning each syllable into a staccato beat. What makes Highway Hypnosis such a marvel is how Moolchan takes her bigger-sounding influences and casts them into an atmospheric record that doesn’t lose any of the closeness or interiority of her previous recordings, nor their feeling of relative mystery. “I don’t wanna explain,” Moolchan sings on “Ecstasy,” “Running ’round the world with a planet of my own.” For 29 minutes, Moolchan teleports us there, even as she keeps the map a secret.

-Jenn Pelly

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