To call the stark, simple, but superb 10-songs-in-14-minutes debut by Sneaks minimalist is an understatement that ranks beside, say, describing the Grand Canyon as a pretty big hole in the ground. Rarely in the history of electronic pop or rock has anyone done as much with as little as Washington, D.C.’s young multi-ethnic auteur Eva Moolchan on Gymnastics, recorded by Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag, Ex Hex), first issued in ultra-D.I.Y. fashion last year, and now getting a much wider release courtesy of Merge.
This is not to say that her combination of monotone vocals, Spartan but wicked wordplay, fuzz bass, and mechanistic drum machine is without precedent: We could cite as touchstones Suicide (minus half of the chaotic rage, because there’s only one of her), the Slits, the XX, and most of all the classic New Wave/birth-of-synth-rock single “Warm Leatherette” by the Normal, a.k.a. Mute Records founder Daniel Miller. Moolchan has a bevy of hooks as memorable as that one, as well as a similarly beyond-droll sense of humor.
“The songs came together pretty fast, very tongue-in-cheek,” she’s said. “I was playing with how we use language and twisting the words of mundane slogans, ads, and repetitive symbols I was seeing while attending school.” Hence the open-ended storytelling of “No Problem” (which consists of those two words repeated over and over, until they take on myriad meanings), the eight-word feminist snarl of “Tough Luck” (“Boy being/Soft rocks/Girl being/Tough luck”), and the probing self-examination-as-Tweet of “X.T.Y.” (“Anxiety/You take the best of me/You turn me inside out/And then you ruin me”). But, in the spirit of this incredible album, I feel like I’ve already said way more than I should have when one word really does the job: Brilliant.
Sneaks, Gymnastics (Merge)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.