Monday, 11 July 2016

Album Review: ScreamerSongwriter by Stöj Snak (by Emma Prew)

Stöj Snak is the folk punk project of musician Niels Sörensen, from Aalborg in Denmark. Niels also plays guitar in hardcore band Mighty Midgets so it's logical that his solo project takes influence from the world of punk rock as well. Although generally being more on the folk side of things, Stöj Snak has a very much DIY feel and all the angry passion of punk.

ScreamerSongwriter is Stöj Snak's 12-track debut album that was released on Make That A Take and TNS Records (in the UK at least) last month. Firstly, I have to say that the album title (and track of the same name) is genius. I'm always reluctant to call solo musicians in the punk scene 'singer songwriters' as that term tends to suggest soft, wishy-washy music but is often not at all the case. ‘Screamer songwriter’ is a much better term and seems to be one that Stöj Snak has wholeheartedly embraced.

The album begins with a surprisingly quiet and calm prelude, featuring some gentle acoustic guitar and piano playing. Prelude only lasts just over a minute and, as lovely as it is to start the album, I’m pleased to say that ScreamerSongwriter doesn’t stay so quiet and calm for long.

The prelude flows seamlessly into the first full track of the album, Fuck!. Apologies to anyone who doesn’t approve of swearing but that’s the title of the song and an integral part of the lyrics. It’s a fast and passionate song with a powerful and uplifting message about going out and living your life how you want to live. The lyrics Here is to love beyond borders, gender, tradition and race. Let's tear down the walls that confines us, and let's make some room to make some sense of this place’ are just brilliant.

The next song on the album is called Laughter Brings People Together But No One Wants To Fuck The Funny Guy. If ‘Fuck!’ was fast then this song is doubly fast with double the aggression too. Fast paced drums and Niels’s screaming vocals remind me of early Against Me!, at least until the one minute mark when there’s some bluesy harmonica thrown into the mix. I don’t think Against Me! have harmonica on any of their songs?!

The harmonica continues with the start of Parental Disclaimer, the fourth track on ScreamerSongwriter. This is a slower song that is clearly more on the folk side of the folk punk spectrum. After two loud and fast tracks, it’s refreshing hear something a bit more stripped back. The emotion in Niels’ vocals is still apparent as he sings about growing up and how parents / grown-ups don’t necessarily know everything or get everything right – as you might have believed as a child. He’s clearly a very skilled lyricist with lines such as And while growing up will not kill you, you surely won't feel stronger.’ really standing out. It’s probably very naïve of me to think this but I’m always impressed by songwriters who can write so eloquently when English isn’t their first language!

Spoiler Alert picks up the pace a bit and continues the theme of living your life to the fullest – or at least enjoying it anyway – without worrying about the things you might not have. The chorus, although it sounds quite negative on paper is actually quite empowering. ‘In the end you're gonna die alone, you'll bring nothing with you when you go. So free yourself from the things you own and spend your time with those people you love. If we've never been so rich, the question is why are we feeling so poor.’ Go listen for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. This song also features a kazoo solo!

The sixth song on the album is the title track, ScreamerSongwriter, and it’s certainly one of the best yet (I guess there’s a reason it is the title track!). If there was just one song on this album to make you want to shout and scream along at the top of your lungs then it most certainly is this one – even the lyrics allude to screaming along. If you feel like screaming, just like I feel like screaming. Let out what you believe in, let me hear you scream it I think we're more than we think that we are. We can make our world sound that way, we can make the silence go away.’ I’ve mentioned the term ‘folk punk’ quite a few times already but this song is the perfect blend of the two genres – with plenty of traditional folk instruments, including a surprise appearance from a whistle, combined with all the intense energy of punk music.

As you might imagine from the title, Lullaby is a quieter and slower paced song. It’s a heart-wrenching song about standing up for a cause that you believe in in the form of protest. While on previous songs, Niels’ vocals were pushed to their limit – screaming more than singing – for Lullaby he really shows that he can sing, as well as shout. It’s a beautiful song and he really puts everything he’s got into it. ‘So close your eyes and just fade away, If we’re not here tomorrow, Something new will rise our of our remains.’

The fast and furious vocals are back with Privacy Is A Crime alongside some speedy guitar playing – probably as well as other instruments, it’s hard for me to decipher. The song is about how our sense of the word ‘freedom’ doesn’t actually mean that we are ‘free’ and ‘privacy’ is not easily achieved – particularly in the Internet age when there’s so much information about each and everyone of us online. ‘Just carry on and you’ll be fine, As long as you have nothing to hide.’

Old Friends And Irish Coffee begins with some repeated ‘doo, doo, doo, doo’-ing which reminds strangely of City and Colour – not that anything else so far on this album has made me think that. However when the full vocals begin the song is back sounding like the Stöj Snak I’ve come to know and love, just perhaps a bit more bluesy. The song is one that almost all of us can probably relate to, about meeting up with old friends that you haven’t seen in a long time but still finding things in common. How have you been? It’s good to see that we still love, The things that everybody (else) hates.

I really like it when albums have been recorded so that one song seamlessly flows into the next which is the case for most of this album and particularly with the next track, Hu-Men. Lyrically I think this is one of the standout tracks on the album, covering a topic that is too infrequently spoken about – ‘being a man’ and changing perceptions of what that means. “Be a man” and lay off your softness, this world will crush you without your toughness. Learn to be hard and block out emotions that show your weakness.’  I think in a way it is more accepted for woman to either be ‘girly’ or not, while men always have to be macho and stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there are lot of inequalities for both men and women… but at least some people in this world see us all as equal, all as hu-men.

White Male Middle-Class Blues is the penultimate song on ScreamerSongwriter and it is the longest yet at 5 and a half minutes (Hu-Men, by contrast, was on 2 minutes long). The song is about being an average middle-class human being and getting by in life, in jobs that we don’t like to earn money to buy things that we don’t need – and generally feeling not too happy, but not too sad. It’s a pretty truthful song and puts things in perspective for the listener – who is probably also ‘middle-class’, although in my case not a male. But as is the case with many of Stöj Snak’s songs, the song is not as negative as you might think. But this city's pretty nice in the summer when everybody's a little less depressed. Things are changing all the time, today might be the day you crack a smile.’

ScreamSongwriter closes with a song called Rokedor which Google tells me means ‘rogue elephant’ – this may or may not be correct. The song is the perfect end to this folk punk album. Starting off slowly, with just Niels’ vocals before the guitar kicks in. Rokedor sounds as if it is going to continue to be a slow and heartfelt song but the chorus – Who cares what will remain when everyone's gone, I’ll walk through the rain singing this song.’ – is screamed before the next verse once again sung more gently. The melody of the verse is then echoed with the guitar which is a nice touch. In the middle of the song there is some group ‘Na na na na’-ing – which, don’t worry, doesn’t sound like a football chant. The group fades out until it’s just Niels singing accompanied by soft piano and guitar. It’s rather an apt way to end the album, especially considering how it began.

ScreamerSongwriter is an album packed with a wide variety of instruments, including but not limited to guitars, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, piano, bass, tambourine, kazoo, harmonica and drums – most of which are played by Niels himself! I’m not brilliant at picking out individual instruments in songs at the best of times but you can tell on this album that there’s a lot going on – and I don’t mean that at all in a bad way. It’s a brilliant collection of DIY folk punk songs that could easily rival the likes of Mischief Brew.

You can find Stöj Snak on Facebook here.

And buy and stream the album (and other releases) from Bandcamp here.