The Snips - Highs of Low (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Snips

Highs of Low (2012)

Rival Party Records

My oft repeated criticism of bands on the pop-punk/melodic hardcore spectrum is that they do themselves an utter disservice in the studio. This is particularly true when bands turn a writing corner like the Snips have: when they've embraced mid-tempo, classically accessible song structures over speed and sub-genre tropes. That's what assholes who write record reviews call a "mature sound." For bands, it often means they're close enough to having something vaguely mainstream-accessible that big, meaty production is an easy sell. It's the result of someone in the soundbooth exclaiming "this could be your Everlong!" and it almost always results in generic, overwrought records. Highs of Low doesn't do that. It absolutely could have given the type of songs the Welland, Ontario five-piece is writing, but it doesn't and that feels notable. Credit goes to producer Dan Weston for letting the band sound suitably epic, but not unfortunately epic. The Snips still sound like the band they are, which is a local favorite who'll pack a small bar with their friends while the rest of the world unfortunately shrugs. It's, at the very least, honest.

If Highs of Low doesn't break the Snips' streak of unfortunate obscurity outside of Southern Ontario it won't be for lack of quality. This is a wonderfully written record, it's a grower months after your first spin, and they can pull it off live.

Highs of Low certainly has more scale and confidence than anything the band's put out before. The Snips share a trajectory with their contemporaries in the Flatliners. Both bands shed their frenetic ska pasts and started writing melodic punk anthems, and songs like "Lines" should certainly get the same fists pumping that Cavalcade did. Of course while the Flats still break out "Fred's Got Slacks" live, the Snips' pivot has been more abrupt. As expected there's nary a sign of the old Ceremonial Snips here, save the return of (now) frontman Rocky Pridmore's trumpet on the album-closing "O'Brother." Even that connection's a stretch, as the song's closer to "Marriage" era Attack In Black than anything from "Check Your Audio." That's just fine by me.

The Snips' reinvention, which kicked off with 2009's Blackouts EP, is fully realized here. Highs of Low is an appropriate title, as there are more dynamics in tempo and volume here than in past outings. The slow burn that leads the searing "Dirty Water" is a perfect example. While there's nothing here as shamelessly fun as the EP's rollocking standout "Black Leather Vest," the band's somber turn packs more emotional punch. Fans of the Menzingers' recent material will find a lot to like in melodic, energetic gems like "Blood Maps" and "Meeting Place."

I suspect there's some segment of the Niagara music scene that's driven crazy by the audacity of today's Snips to be playing anything but metal riffs with a horn section. That's not me. There's a reason this band fits in perfectly at the Fest these days.