“I wanna live on a stage, I wanna play the guitar and I wanna get paid,” are the first words sung by Kevin Jones on The Snake The Cross The Crown’s third album, Cotton Teeth. Four years ago, when the band released their pretentious and stylistically torpid debut album, Like a Moth Before a Flame, these aspirations may have sounded a bit unrealistic. Well, the “getting paid” part anyways. At the time, the five-piece from Alabama was just getting started, with five great friends seeing how far they could take their musical potential. Guitarists Kevin Jones and Franklin Sammons, bassist Carl Marshall, keyboardist William Sammons, and drummer Mark Fate all knew each other very well indeed, having lived in the same single house for four years. Most even worked the same shift at the same job, carpooled together every day, and ate the same meals. Even with all this, the five members of the copiously titled The Snake The Cross The Crown all found the most similar interest in one thing: music. They set up large quantities of equipment in their house’s garage, the house that marked the first time that each of them had lived on their own. Even if the house was a bit crowded, the band let their musical thoughts flow freely. Though they initially performed as Curbside Service, they eventually, for some reason, change their name to The Snake The Cross The Crown after drummer Mark Tate joined the mix, making their first live performance shortly afterward. Curbside Service released a simplistic but enjoyably catchy album, I Packed My Bags a Year in Advance, in 2002. A year later, after the name change, The Snake The Cross The Crown released their debut EP. When it was first released, the six-song Like a Moth Before a Flame, went by mostly unnoticed. Believe it or not, labeling the album’s genre as “emo” at the time would not have been far off, which explained why I held general animosity toward the release. Fans enjoyed it but critics and mainly everyone else, including me, found it uninspiring and typical. For a change of scenery, the band moved to the more lively Santa Barbara, California for their second album, Mander Salis, which was released a year later. In that year, the band somehow matured at an amazing pace. I’m not sure whether it was the change of scenery or their new experience working magic, but Mander Salis was a very solid follow-up that was more focused on delightful alternative with shades of jangly folk and post-rock, abandoning that “emo” tag that caused me to despise the band’s style. I found myself pleasantly surprised with Mander Salis, causing me to unexpectedly anticipate their third album. The two bands that they noted as large influences for the album were The Beatles and Radiohead, which would be the likely response for most new American rock artists at this time. Reviews echoed excellence and the band started going on national tours with other respectable artists, beginning to finally earn a name for themselves. With an inexperience for success, the five members found it difficult to juggling touring with their daily aspects of life and eventually canceled numerous tour dates. Though it did not appear so, the band’s main frustration was that they all felt that they could write better songs than the ones they were performing. Most bands, at this time, would most likely call it quits altogether and halt songwriting out of pure frustration. Instead, the five members set out immediately for even more improvement, setting out to work on their third album. After a year or so of songwriting, the band headed to the studio last year in April to begin production on their third album. During the sessions, bassist Carl Marshall left the band, but as usual it did not cause any delay in the band’s creative process.
Cotton Teeth was released on March 6th, three years since the release of their second album, Mander Salis. Believe it or not, the band has lived up to their aspirations and improved yet again, though something tells me that these four friends (after Marshall’s departure) will never be entirely satisfied. Well, nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. This time around, the band takes a more ambitious approach and it is executed quite well, most of the time. The band describes the ten songs on Cotton Teeth as a reflection on their previous turbulences, noting frustration, triumph, worry, and aspirations as focal emotions. Consider the album as a memoir of sorts, as the lyrical content seems to ruminate over these feelings alongside the band’s previously nostalgic days of living together with two cars and one shower. Even with successful complexities like the epic “Electronic Dream Plant” and the explosive “Behold The River”, the band’s best songs remain to be the more shorter and classifiable pop songs. “The Great American Smokeout” is entirely memorable and is one of the catchiest songs the band has written, driven by a charismatic melody driven by an acoustic guitar and a sprawling piano. “Cotton Teeth” is in a similar vein, though portrayed with a more electric and enthusiastic tone. Being two of the three songs that are under four minutes on the album, “The Great American Smokeout” and “Cotton Teeth” are also the most eminent. Even so, tracks like “Behold The River” are certainly impressive in their own right, prominent with Jones’ slurred vocals providing as a backbone for a build-up that transitions from a light piano to an outburst of vocal emotion and electric guitars. “Electronic Dream Plant” and “Hey Jim” are also similar in providing an impressive display of musicianship and knack for songwriting, even if the excitement takes a few minutes too long to recognize in a form of over-ambitiousness. These songs prove that patience is a virtue, though an overabundance of the type is certainly evident throughout the album. This newest effort is sure to bring them comparisons to the graceful hooks of The Band, Harry Nilsson, and most distinctively Jeff Tweedy, mainly due to the country twang that The Snake The Cross The Crown display no hesitance for on Cotton Teeth. Tracks like “The Great American Smokeout”, “Cotton Teeth”, and “Hey Jim” all compensate for the three or four filler tracks on the album. Cotton Teeth is the best album that The Snake The Cross The Crown has released in their career, marking a band who seems to be getting more diverse and successful with each release.