Thursday, 15 October 2020

Album Review: Life, Death And Everything In Between by Stöj Snak (by Emma Prew)

Back in 2016, when I was still new to review writing, Colin sent me an album he’d received from TNS Records that he thought I would enjoy because it was ‘folky’ – folk punk being my thing. That album was the debut full-length from Danish four-piece Stöj Snak titled ScreamerSongwriter – I’d never heard of the band before, nor front person Niels Højgaard Sørensen’s previous melodic hardcore band Mighty Midgets at the time, but I did enjoy the album. I’m reluctant to re-read my 2016 review (or link it here – although you can quite easily find it, if you wished to) for fear of it not being up to scratch with my current review writing nor truly reflecting just how much I have come to love ScreamerSongwriter – so much so that I would consider it to be in my top albums of all time. That initial review also wouldn’t have captured how Stöj Snak have grown to be one of my most favourite artists – not to mention live performers.

Since ScreamSongwriter, Stöj Snak have released two EPs – 1000 Daisies in 2018 and a split with Speed Dinosaurs titled The Mass Extinction Split last year – and several video game soundtracks (I highly recommend checking out the game Figment, it’s very good). All of the above have been excellent but, of course, what I’ve been eagerly awaiting above all else is Stöj Snak’s second full-length album. The wait was finally over towards the end of September when Life, Death And Everything In Between appeared in the CPRW inbox and I did a happy dance before preparing myself to listen to what I’d already proclaimed to be my most-anticipated album of 2020. 

For Life, Death And Everything In Between, Niels is joined by Rasmus Glassau Clausen, Jeppe Nørgaard, Jesper Olsen – who each play quite a range of instruments – as well as a number of other guest musicians and vocalists.

The album is out on the 23rd of October on 5FeetUnder Records, TNS Records and Make That A Take Records. Please read on to find out just why you should listen to it as soon as you can! In short: It. Did. Not. Disappoint. (My review, however, is far from short so apologies in advance.)

Life, Death And Everything In Between begins slowly and calmly with Reasons To Smile. The track is almost entirely acapella with just some gentle organ playing starting over half way through the short song. It’s a beautifully distinct opening track that really grabs the listener’s attention and allows us to focus on every word that Niels is singing. Reasons To Smile is a personal song written for Niels’ child and is about acknowledging that the world is a pretty horrible place – ‘I know this world is not a place I would want to be born into’ – but hoping that they can live the happiest life possible despite this and ‘find reasons to smile’. It’s a perfect introduction to the album that leads us nicely into track number two – Trees. I knew I was going to really like this song, just from its title, before I had even heard it for the first time – hitting play, it did not let me down. Starting out with a drum roll and some fast paced strums of guitar, it’s clear from the outset that this is going to be a more raucous Stöj Snak tune. When the vocals come in, Niels’ voice has got that wonderful slightly raw quality that we know and love from previous Stöj Snak releases, without being too far down the screamy end of the scale. Trees is a wonderfully catchy song both in its lyrical content and melodies – I particularly love Jeppe’s subtle double bass part that sits comfortably behind the swift guitar strumming. Rather than literally being about trees, the song describes us humans as being like trees without roots to hold us down, trying to do the right thing and vote for the change we want to see in the world and our lives but being ‘blown apart when a storm comes around’. The (Not So) Great Depression fades in with the question ‘How do we escape, How do we escape, How do we escape, This not so great depression?’ before the whole band comes in full force, quickly matching and then surpassing the tempo of the previous track. As you might be able to tell from the title of the track, The (Not So) Great Depression is about how many of us find ourselves suffering with some form of depression in modern life and the track questions why this might be. The lines that struck me the most – although, of course, Niels is a master lyricist so it’s all gold – are ‘Is it the way you're disconnected from nature and apathy replaced your will to fight, Or how bright screens and gadgets steal your attention and all your spare time just passes by?’ The song has some wonderful transitions from fast paced verses with loud vocals to slower more muted sections before ending with full on screaming.

The tone changes completely for the fourth song on Life, Death And Everything In Between. Bliss Point was released in hand drawn and animated lyric video format in mid-September and, if you haven’t already seen it, then I highly recommend you go and watch it now. The video itself is captivating and is a wonderful accompaniment to a truly beautiful song. Opening with a steady finger picked guitar riff and subtle synth part before some distinct harmonica playing and the rest of the band come in, Bliss Point is one of the more mellow sounding songs on the album but that is definitely not a bad thing. It’s also one of the longer songs on the album, clocking in at 6 minutes, but it never feels too long. The song builds and builds throughout its duration with the real highlight coming well over half way through the song as Niels declares ‘I don’t want to leave, Let’s live while we’re still breathing, I don’t want to leave, And dream before we fall asleep’. I can’t express how much I want to sing along to that at a Stöj Snak live show one day. Hopefully I can. Next up is Wants/Needs which opens with a surprise trumpet part (a guest appearance from Sara Harrington) and instantly reminds me of long-standing folk punks Days N Daze. When the vocals and the rest of the band come in however, I soon forget any comparisons as this is classic lively Stöj Snak. I also want to refer to the song as joyful although I know that that’s not necessarily reflected in all of the lyrical content. Wants/Needs is about feeling like you want certain, often material, things even if those things aren’t what really matters in life. I just can’t help but smile and sing along to ‘Sometimes what you want are not the things you need, Sometimes what you want are not the things you need, While you fall, I’m hanging here right above you, Pressing on, I'm hanging here right above you, Hoping someone’s there to catch you.’ Sensible Utility wastes no time in getting going and soon confronts the listener with a thought-provoking and, I’m sure, very relatable subject matter. Niels sings of seeing a child suffering in poverty on a charity advertisement on the TV before uncomfortably turning it off as well as feeling uneasy when passing a homeless man on the street. The chorus asks ‘We’ve got to fucking help them, don’t we? What kind of humans are we if we don't? We got to fucking help them, don’t we?’ before coming to the conclusion ‘But we can't save the whole world on our own’. It’s true but I think – and I think what Stöj Snak are trying to say is – that you can always try to be a better, kinder person and make a positive impact on the world, however small that impact may be.

Kicking off immediately with a melodic bass line, rhythmic guitar strums and percussion, This Condition tackles similar themes to The (Not So) Great Depression although this time it feels more personal. Niels sings of having feelings of melancholy despite being ‘better off than most’ and having been brought up with ‘food, education and toys’ but feeling like because, at least on the outside, your life appears to be great, you cannot complain or feel sad. I know some listeners will take great comfort in these lyrics and will also enjoy the cathartic singalong that takes place towards the end of the track – ‘Maybe these songs will never really matter, But it matters that we try, First step to change is seeing a pattern, That we can break if we rise, The future belongs to those holding on, When you sing along, I'm holding on, Na na na (etc.), Let’s sing along!’ The eighth song of Life, Death And Everything In Between, Drink From The Well, is one that I was already well acquainted with due to its inclusion on 2019’s Mass Extinction Split. It’s an upbeat, bouncy and super catchy tune that certainly doesn’t sound out of place on the record so I have no complaints about its inclusion. The song is one that’s more obviously about the consequences of climate change than perhaps anything else on the album but the idea that it will not have the an impact on us necessarily but our children and future generations instead is a theme that runs throughout the album. ‘We've poisoned the waters and ruined the crops so what do we say our kids turn to us, And ask us to justify all this mess – they will reap what we saw.’ The review pack for this album helpfully includes not just lyrics but also which instruments appear on which song, and who plays them, so I’ve learnt that the sort of twanging instrument throughout Drink From The Well is a jaw harp – and I love it. With its soft piano lead opening, it’s clear that Songs About Beliefs is going to be a slower track that gradually builds up throughout its duration. Like Bliss Point earlier on, this is one of the longer songs on the album. It’s also so incredibly emotional and moving, so much so that the first time I listened to it I almost teared up – probably the fact that I was driving at the time was all that was stopping me. It’s just that heartfelt and passionate. I must have listened to Life, Death And Everything In Between over twenty times before actually sitting down to review it and this song still hits home just as hard as the first time I heard it. It takes us on an incredible journey from simply feeling like everything in the world is shit to really trying to get better and do better. The whole song is a hugely cathartic experience but the crowning moment is towards its conclusion, after an impassioned harmonica performance – ‘Rise and sing, all of my fallen friends, If just for tonight, live our beliefs, Rise and sing, all of my fallen friends, Let’s be the change we want to see. Yeah, let us sing for the whole world to hear, expose our hearts, our hopes and ideas, And for once be true to ourselves and make things matter, If it mattered once to dream like this, we can make it matter now.’

As the album begins to draw to a close there’s yet another change in musical style for a minute long bluesy number titled Smoke. With a slightly more electronic feel than much of the Stöj Snak back catalogue (‘programming’ and ‘feedback’ are listed in the credits for this song), it actually wouldn’t feel out of place on one of Niels’ video games soundtracks. There’s a very dark feel to the song as Niels sings of smoke rising above the trees. Whether that smoke is the result of industry or a burning forest hardly matters as it is the same negative impact to our planet either way – ‘Ignite the world with hatred, kill till there’s nothing left to kill’. The penultimate song of the album is Fire which could easily be considered the second part of Smoke, at least in terms of its themes. However, unlike Smoke, this is the classic Stöj Snak energetic and punchy sound that we’re already familiar with. It’s also a fine combination of melodic, catchy lyrics – ‘Fight fire with water if you really want to put it out’ – and screaming vocal moments. The song is about how humans are so stuck in our ways, fighting wars and causing destruction, that there’s not even a valid reason for it anymore. As you can probably imagine, it’s a pretty angry sounding song, best displayed in the bridge – ‘They prosper from division so they want you to hate them, But fuck all the weapons and fuck all this hatred, If your beliefs are worth killing for then set an example and start with yourself, Stop killing people and go to hell.’ Life, Death And Everything In Between has been quite the journey so far but it’s not over until we take in its epic nearly 11 minute long album closing title track. Starting with clear vocals and stripped back instrumentation of only guitars, even from the beginning of this song it feels like the ultimate culmination of everything that’s come before it and its initial simplicity seems to echo the album’s opening track. I can’t even begin to quote and analyse the lyrics of most of this song – the lyric sheet I have goes over two pages – but it really does feel like Niels covers life, death… and everything in between. Like the other slower tracks on the album, this closing track has a great sense of building throughout, complete with a harmonica solo around the 6 minute point – I honestly love a harmonica solo more than a guitar solo. It’s the last two minutes of the song that really pull on your heartstrings as Niels passionately sings ‘I hope you'll dance till you drop, Sing back at the madness, Let the tune lift you up, Carry you on so you keep on smiling, I hope you'll dance till you drop, Punch holes through the sadness, Give all you’ve got, When shadows fall, burn like a fire, Burn like a fire. I hope you'll dance till you drop, Bring light to the darkness, But when the sun comes back up, Take a brief break to hear the silence.’ Honestly, it’s superb. What an incredible way to finish an album.

I went into this review of Life, Death And Everything In Between with high hopes but Stöj Snak have completely blown all of my expectations out of the water. It may have been four years since they released their last album but you can really tell that every single detail has been considered here. From start to finish, this album is a masterpiece and I’ll be raving about it for week, months and years to come.

You can stream Bliss Point and Fire and pre-order Life, Death And Everything In Between (plus other goodies) on Bandcamp here.

Like Stöj Snak on Facebook here.

This review was written by Emma Prew.