Rock‘n’roll is a boy’s game. Although female
musicians exist, there is little crossover, inter-gender appeal.
This isn’t because rock‘n’roll is inherently
sexist; rather, most men simply can’t relate to the concepts
preached by mainstream female artists — like Sarah MacLachlan
— in the same way that most females have little in common
with Robert Plant. Sufjan Stevens protégé Liz Janes
has created an album that manages to sound musically asexual while
still expressing femininity through its lyrics.

Many of the album’s tracks are concerned with being in and
out of love. Songs like “Wonderkiller” express broken
hope after a failed relationship, while others, like the title
track, praise found love. Like labelmate and sometimes cohort
Stevens, many of her lyrics also have religious undertones. Poison
& Snakes contains several affirmations of faith, such as
“His promise is not dependent on my belief / but on His word
only.” Janes’ lyrics are inoffensive, taking on a
merely average character, but are admirable in how well they stick
to themes. The song “Ocean” is about just that and
nothing more — five and a half minutes of clichéd
water metaphors (“Will the current take me on / to bottom or
to shore?”). Similarly, “Deep Sea Diver” does an
adequate job of depicting its main character, but suffers from the
G.I. Joe action figure image conjured by its title.

The music on the album is, like the lyrics, typically bland.
“Wonderkiller” and “Go Between” make use of
vibraphones, lending a kitschy 1950s feel. Most others feature
gently strummed acoustic guitars, while, in another Sufjan Stevens
similarity, banjos appear on several tracks. When the soft
instrumentation occasionally reaches a breaking point, the
transition between Janes’s quiet and loud dynamics is
startling. Heavily distorted electric guitars play in both speakers
while calculated cymbal use underscores the few attempts at
“rocking.” The problem, however, is that there are only
“soft,” “soft/hard” and “soft with
vibraphone” songs on the album, and they are all played at
slow tempos. The lack of variety among the 10 tracks makes it hard
to actively listen to the album in one sitting.

Poison & Snakes does little to erase the gender lines in
rock music today. The lack of innovation in its music and lyrics
results in an album that is unremarkable, but inoffensive; there is
little in Janes’s work that is noticeably (or notably) bad,
but, unfortunately, little deserving of praise.

 

Rating: 2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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