Where do you start with a band that had one foot in the ’80s, and the other in the succeeding decade that gracefully managed to deflect the superficial trappings of either period? Well, as bassist Alec Palao eloquently describes in From of Play’s liner notes, you start by not selling truckloads of records, and ditto for packing droves into nightclubs to see your act. Meet The Sneetches, a bygone San Francisco treat that never indulged in the flavor-of-the-moment whims of their mid-80s to nineties tenure, be it new wave, neo-psychodelic, grunge or otherwise. In fact, no amount of peer pressure (if any existed at all) swayed the Sneetches to be anything other than …themselves.
Settling on a four-person roster by 1988 (one that was coincidentally half Yank/half Brit) the band’s modus operandi was never quite spelled out, rather revealed slowly and intermitently over the course of four full lengths and easily thrice as many short form singles and EPs. Highly prolific, the Sneetches discography is somewhat intimidating, and although an attempt at distilling the highlights of their career was attempted via 1991’s 1985-1991 compilation on Alias Records, Omnivore’s summation of their trajectory encompasses the tail end of their run as well on Form of Play, albeit not chronologically. Still, a “trail mix” cross-section of their work isn’t a bad way to present the Sneetches, as they fell shy of releasing a universally hailed album, or for that matter much in the way of signature songs. And what of those songs you might ask?
Over the course of their decade lifespan, the Sneetches frequently inhabited a power pop place, with their intuition being equally persuaded by both sides of the pond. Frontman Mike Levy and six string-wielder Matt Carges piloted their airship through primo, hooky terrain on “…And I’m Thinking,” the Merseybeat inflected “Julianna Why,” and a devastatingly bittersweet single from 1987, “Only For a Moment.” A more streamlined muse is at play on “Empty Sea” and “What’s In Your Mind,” loosely slotting into a mode at home with latter era Let’s Active, and even Game Theory. Some appealing anomalies materialize as well, namely the punky Buzzcocks-cum-Replacements thrust of “Looking for Something,” and the strummy, pastoral folk of “Let Us Go.”
Form of Play may not be my dream roster of Sneetches songs, but first-person perspective aside it’s a representative assemblage of what made these Bay-era popmeisters tick. The few previously unreleased sections are predominantly culled from live performances, but a concluding acoustic demo of “How Does It Feel” channeling Big Star says volumes about where the Sneetches were emanating from.