On a recent trip to Uff-Da Records, a St. Cloud, Minnesota used disc shop, I decided to take a risk. I tend to purchase albums that I’ve already digested online, but that day I was feeling lucky.
As I walked in the door, the local music section (which was semi-inaccurate) caught my eye and in seconds.
I was overwhelmed with a lot of illegible and edgy metal fonts and artworks and political partisan albums. Differentiated from the bunch sat a spooked alien-slug on a white background with jittery letters: Snailmate’s Existential Anxiety – the most recent major release from the band, excluding their 2019 single “The Laziest Man in the World”.
“Existential Anxiety” is an EP consisting of four nerdy, asthmatic, expulsive, and self-critical songs that pair minimalist hip-hop rap with electro-funk keyboard and a real drum kit.
Kalen Lander and Ariel Monet run the show – with Lander performing lead vocals and the synth, and Monet laying down the drumbeats and providing backing vocals. The Monet-Lander duo are the only consistent Snailmate members, but Andrea Stone and Alphuh the Musical provided backup vocals on “Existential Anxiety”. The mixing and mastering was done by Bill Douglass.
To coin a term, Lander’s rapping style is asthmatic-expulsive; he spurts a shower of words in long-winded bursts then gasps hard for air. It delivers a choked and claustrophobic vibe that serves the record’s general theme of, spoiler alert, existential anxiety.
Techno distortions and high-hat taps playing in a void herald the arrival of Existential Anxiety’s opening track “Night Life” as dark drums roll in. The cold suspense intensifies as two vocalists sing in tandem; one with a Marilyn Manson-style throat rasp and the other with a femme metal shout, “What you are. What you want. Oh my God!”
As Lander takes off with his John McCrea – the singer from Cake – vocal qualities and sardonic delivery, Monet’s drums shift to a drum machine sound with handclaps. The lyrics of “Night Life” invoke the delirious ramblings of a millennial marathon-gamer/entertainment junky tripping on a hallucinogen – or having a strange morning.
“Today I woke up dumb. I couldn’t think of any words or work my tongue. Couldn’t even praise the sun… I thought cartoons would look like fun; my eyes had no idea what they were watching.”
The bands quirky blend of rap and screamo works well, with the screams serving as dashes of spice to their songs – there aren’t many of them, but the screams that are there are well considered. Given the title and general theme of the album, the screams build upon the title with the psychotic wails of cosmic terror.
The instrumentation on “Night Life” doesn’t shift much, but it accomplishes its task by providing Lander a playground for his oddball lyrics.
“I can make believe death will grant me a million miles to the gallon. But I won’t hold my breath unless that’s how I’m supposed to get there. Whoa… Lord knows it’s all too often thinking outside of that box will get you inside of a coffin.”
Lander makes tactful use of his voice when rapping; he goes on long speed-rounds of rattling of run-on sentences and, rather than masking his need for air, he incorporates his exasperation into the track by inhaling into the microphone.
As “Night Life” closes, with a satisfying twist on the track’s main hook, the song ends abruptly – as does every track on Existential Anxiety.
The EP mocks a myriad of negative Millennial tropes from within the Millennial perspective. Lack of purpose, doubt of everything, woe-is-me culture, harmful coping mechanisms, and cosmic insignificance scatter their thematic shards across the brief EP, which altogether conjure a mental state that invites listeners to examine their own easily-fixable inadequacies while simultaneously questioning the futility of it all.
Track two, “On You”, accentuates another negative early adolescent/failed 20-year-old’s perspective as he blames his disposition on externalities instead of looking inward. The goofy chorus has Lander and several backup singer’s singing in a falsetto fashion.
In “On You”, Lander lambasts inactive gaming culture and its behavior patterns through clever wordplay and double-entendre.
“I’m playing the game but I probably shouldn’t call it that even though I’m constantly combatting holograms. And I could cheat but not without console command and every time I take a hit I turn into a smaller man.”
This notion carries over into track three, “I Woke Up for This?”, as well.
“When the credits roll and I don’t see my name I realize I just beat a campaign I didn’t make. I’m an avatar, a captive, a connoisseur and an addict, a parasite and a host in one.”
The final track, “3D Glasses” has an enjoyable bouncy drum rhythm and drives the EP’s title home with its relentless nihilism.
“Take your fist. Flex it twice. Shake it at the stars each night. Show them all where you stand; insist that you’re not an ant.”
The song has a humorous ending – like the song didn’t know how it wanted to end, so it ended itself four times in a row. The EP ceases with one final grating question and answer.
“Do you feel like a speck? You are.”
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