Though I guess it wasn’t really ever in doubt, it takes a band like the Hot Snakes to provide incontrovertible proof that punk’s hot-blooded spirit has not withered in the chill winds of pop-punk’s ascendance. Blink-182, Good Charlotte and their kin can prance around MTV ‘til the cows come home; bands like Hot Snakes will keep putting out records like Audit in Progress. Even taken out of context, the San Diego foursome’s third LP touches raw nerves with thrilling precision.
Hot Snakes is the latest manifestation of long-time Swami mates John Reis and Rick Froberg, both of whom swelled indie hearts together in Pitchfork and later Drive Like Jehu in the early-‘90s. The two reunited for Hot Snakes’ 2000 debut, Automatic Midnight, after Reis’s foray into ska-punk with Rocket from the Crypt. Their latest offering, completed with new drummer Mario Rubalcaba of Black Heart Procession and Sea of Tombs fame, is another solid addition to the quartet’s throbbing rock catalog.
The best punk hides its songcraft behind the kind of heart-on-sleeve sincerity that makes those ecstatic fist-pumping moments seem almost entirely uncalculated, as if the band was simply tapping into some timeless communal force for the benefit of its dedicated fans. Of course, it’s the charisma of its members and their flair for songwriting that makes these connections happen, and Hot Snakes have those talents in spades. Audit in Progress is packed with gleeful riffage, but Reis and Froberg temper their frenetic melodies into coherent songs without stripping them of the caterwauling unpredictability that makes their guitar work so invigorating. “Think about Carbs” is an utterly relentless two minutes and thirteen seconds of dietary vindictive; Rubalcaba’s drums catapult each six-string downstroke and vocal chant straight to the base of your spine.
Though Froberg may not be saying anything particularly innovative in his attacks on apathy, the record industry and the government, he makes his points with a fiery insistency befitting such breathtakingly reckless music. While the guitars growl and spit with a logic all their own, Froberg transforms the sing-alongs on “Hi-Lites” and “Kreative Kontrol” into mantras, pounding out a slogan until it becomes just another kick drum for the Hot Snakes’ percussive machine.
Audit in Progress is a swashbuckling celebration of rock ’n’ roll’s primal energy, and a damb good argument against experimental or “artsy” pop music in general. But the band presents this stance without any of its reactive connotation. When Froberg yells on “Plenty for All” about the “manufactured phonies/ hung up on themselves,” he reminds us to “Bring ’em all with you/ It’s all for the best.” The Hot Snakes aren’t bitter; they’re just down for a good time.