Album Review

Retrospective of Undeservedly Obscure Bay Area Pop Band

The Sneetches - Form of Play - A Retrospective

Amid the post-punk, indie-rock and the phoenix-like rise of grunge, there was a thread of late-80s pop that focused on melody and craft. The dB’s, Game Theory and Bongos were more cerebral than their power-pop counterparts but no less fetching to listen to. And standing tall artistically, if not in record sales, was San Francisco’s Sneetches. Initially formed as a duo of Mike Levy and Matt Carges, the group became a bassless trio with the addition of drummer Daniel Swan (ex-Cortinas), and a quartet with the addition of bassist Alec Palao (ex-Sting-Rays). Their releases nearly snuck out in singles, EPs and albums across multiple labels (including Kaleidoscope, Creation, Alias, spinART and Bus Stop), and though there was no commercial success, they were well-loved by a coterie of fans and well-played by in-the-know college radio stations.

This first-ever career retrospective collects material ranging from Levy and Carges’ terrific first single, 1985’s “Only For a Moment,” through a solidly-played 1994 live date at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. In between are stops at singles, albums and a pair of previously unreleased studio tracks that include the euphorically melodic “Juliana Why” and an acoustic demo of “How Does It Feel.” It’s a fair cross-section of the group’s guitar-driven pop, with nods to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star, Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks and others, and its retrospection provides a double layer of nostalgia as listeners listen back to the ‘80s listening back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. The arrangements center on guitars, bass and drums, but horns and keyboards add dimension to a few tracks, and Levy’s vocals stretch into falsetto for “They Keep Me Running” and hypnotic repetition for the psych-tinged “Take My Hand.”

Sneetches bassist (and noted archivist and reissue producer) Alec Palao scoured the vaults for the live tracks and unreleased material, but more importantly, hard-to-find singles mixes that recount the story as it unfolded to the band’s original fans. Missing is material from their 1993 collaboration with the Flamin’ Groovies’ Chris Wilson, but given that it’s really a Chris Wilson record, the minutes are better spent here on original Sneetches material. The 16-page booklet is filled with photos and liner notes by Palao that provide an inside look at the band and life as a Sneetch. At twenty-two tracks, clocking in at seventy-seven minutes, this is a good buy for those just meeting the band, but also those who collected everything along the way. Fans may find a few favorite tracks (*cough* “54 Hours”) missing, but what’s here is a great introduction, with bonuses that sweeten the pot. [©2017 Hyperbolium]