Former Third Eye Blind guitarist Jason Slater founded Snake River Conspiracy with musical dominatrix Tobey Torres because he was dissatisfied with his other band's syrupy songs and teenybopper fanbase. But just as Third Eye Blind played guitar-heavy candy-pop that was occasionally redeemed by an insanely catchy hook, SRC perform guitar-heavy bubble-techno that equally balances their sour goth tendencies with a healthy taste of sweet song craft.
For instance, on one of the album's two notable covers (the other is the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?"), the group filters the Cure's "Lovesong" (RealAudio excerpt) through what sounds like a MIDI sequencing program composed by Trent Reznor after a steady diet of Prozac. They settle into a dark, dense synth groove that might sound menacing were it not for the sunny melody and equally shining arrangement by Slater. "Ahhh, ahhh, ah, ahhhhh," seductively sighs Torres between the Robert Smithpenned verses and lovely orchestrated strings. Her visual style matches the music, with her tight black leather outfit and dyed black hair sporting short, cropped bangs that are simultaneously sexy and scary. At different points in the album, she sounds like Betty Boop, Bettie Page, and Patti Page.
Some of the songs don't even bother with fooling us by coating their confections with a crystallized hard-rock candy shell. "Act Your Age" is midtempo and beautiful, and the tune that follows, "More Than Love" (RealAudio excerpt) (with a big, bold chorus that goes, "This means more than love to me"), could have been a 1980s power ballad if the production were different. Even the most menacing song title, "Somebody Hates You" (RealAudio excerpt), is pretty goofy and also just kinda pretty. It samples what seems to be a silly "ba, ba, ba, ba, baaaaaa," section of an anonymous easy-listening song, mixing it with asses-on-fire blazing guitars. And even though "Vulcan" kicks off with a huge "FUCK YOU!" from Torres doing her best impression of Courtney Love mocking Henry Rollins, no matter how pissed off it sounds, you just can't get away from the idea that it's cute and catchy. (Though she is sorta frightening when, in the same song, she says, "You could talk me into fucking you/ But I don't think you'd survive." Yikes!)
Even the title, Sonic Jihad, is misleading. Far from being an angry holy war, the album is more the aural equivalent of a shrill screaming match between peeved lovers. Why Slater made such a big deal about the high cheese factor of his former band is a mystery; as his new album demonstrates, he has simply switched genres rather than adopting a new stylistic orientation. As a wise man (I think it was Ol' Dirty Bastard) once said, "a rose by any other name ..."