Peer Review: Nic Warnock On Snake
For our latest instalment of Peer Review, Nic Warnock (RIP Society, Repressed Records, Bedwettin’ Bad Boys) examines Al Montfort’s debut 2013 self-titled release under the Snake moniker.
Al Monfort’s (Eastlink, Total Control, Straightjacket Nation, UV Race, Lower Plenty, Dick Diver, Russell St Bombings, and probably a few more) debut solo cassette as Snake is one of the most surprising and enjoyable listening experiences I’ve had in a long while. As a proud fan of all Al’s groups it was fairly certain I’d be enjoy Snake, but I wasn’t prepared for the confusion, surprise, and almost epiphany I’ve had in listening this seemingly minor chapter in Monfort’s discography. I was made aware of Snake courtesy of the following write-up penned by bandmate Daniel Stewart:
Over the last year, using the sarangi, assamese buffalo horn flute, sax and been, a zoom drum machine and GUITAR, Al started accumulating solo recordings and it’s one of the best tapes of 2013. This a very eclectic collection of songs, all strong. There’s a song that sounds like live Alan Vega that closes with a passage of fractured noise and bursts into a cascade of aforementioned Indian instruments, for instance. Moments of mesmerising drone. Atmospheric, dark psych-folk. ”A journey”. Recorded over the last twelve months in Melbourne and while travelling in India, Snake is a very powerful selection of songs.
December 1, 2013
This blurb, though informative, doesn’t spoil the surprise that lay ahead or prepare me for the quality of ‘otherness’ I’d experience in listening. I’m not going to be able to describe that feeling adequately, or why I like this music so much.
“A profound yet down to earth reflection of life.”
In that period between hearing about the recording and actually hearing it, I imagined some of the could-be results. Don’t get me wrong, Al is anything but predictable playing in a diverse cross section of bands that all manage to contain the essence of Al (someone please produce that eco friendly, non-gender specific body fragrance) but you know, solo lo-fi, outsider project from a punk expanding their horizons – there’s a vague tradition of this type of thing. There’s nothing wrong with music that employs a type of basement schlock aesthetic or is consciously attempting to capture an ?outsider? quality, and I believe there is still a great purpose to the cassette format in documenting interesting-yet-slightly-throwaway experiments. The thing is, this Snake cassette is none of the above.
There’s been no shortage of flirtations with faux-spiritual new age, eastern, african or kosmische music in the post-Y2K migration from what was dubbed noise by the music press (although noise purists would dismiss this grouping). Some of this music is sincere and responsible in its appropriation of these influences but the other side is a negative symptom of modern music, particularly with the internet removing a lot music’s regional qualities. With these kind of knee-jerk reactions and willingness to mould oneself to stay relevant, novelty reigns supreme and snooty cycles of what’s relevant and pass? are created. None of this is of relevance to Snake, concerns of reacting against or inserting oneself into any music linage is beneath him.
I don’t know how I can describe the aura of this music, or sufficiently describe this music beyond the process, instrument list and touchpoints Dan provided in the sales spiel, hence why I’ve relied so heavily on describing what it’s not. One of my favourite customers at Repressed Records, a man in his 60s who spent the majority of the post-punk era immersed in jazz and improv, reckons there’s a bit of Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge in Snake’s voice and delivery. I can kind of hear that now but there’s no way I would ever have come to that comparison by myself. Snake’s phrasings, as well as lyrics that feel they’ve been plucked from everyday dialogue, remind me of Mark E. Smith, particularly on the track ‘Mollusc In Tyrol’, taken from The Fall’s Seminal Live LP, where Smith raps over a boombox playing Craig Leon’s primitive proto-techno track [‘Donkeys Bearing Cups’](https://www.youtube.com/watch’v=Yi821hnKiCo).
The collaging of real conversations, small talk becoming the big picture, watercooler talk rearranged and paired with a musical backdrop, all creates a surreal reflection of reality. Like Suicide, Snake is at times frighteningly intimate in capturing the rhythm of the world. It is a profound yet down to earth reflection of life, a lucid regurgitation of musical and non-musical experiences. Snake is not a mask or a character, and while this was a unpredictable divergence from his other musical output when released in late 2013, he’s made more music since that makes this cassette a little less of an anomaly, which makes me all the more excited to see what the future holds for Al Monfort.