Many who mourned the demise of the San Diego avant-punk outfit Drive like Jehu were heartened by the reunion of Jehu alums Rick Froeberg and John Reis (who also fronts the bombastic Rocket from the Crypt) in Hot Snakes. And for good reason. Like their 2000 debut, Automatic Midnight, the Snakes’ second effort owes much to Jehu’s propulsive grind. The opener, "I Hate the Kids," is a dark-hued rumble of raw, angry guitar lines and eerie organ tones. "XOX" kicks up even more dust, with the guitars of Reis and Froeberg jousting viciously against the Neanderthal drumming of former Delta 72 timekeeper Jason Kourkounis.
Froeberg’s lyrics are preoccupied with death, but fortunately he’s got a sense of humor about it. "Gar Forgets His Insulin" is a savage punk blast that imagines the death of the band’s bassist/organist, Gar Wood, in great detail. On "Who Died," Froeberg jumps to the satisfying conclusion that the girl who’s avoiding him must have croaked. Throughout, his voice strains to hit the few notes in its range, but this desperation is what the songs call for. On an album that works hard to build up tension, the sublime, snarling release of "Unlisted" should be the ideal closer, so the song that follows it — a convoluted diatribe on the legacy of Israel’s first prime minister called "Ben Gurion" — is a puzzler. The political chest thumping just doesn’t fit with the album’s mix of black humor and self-lacerating angst — it’s a bizarre postscript to an otherwise powerful collection of songs.