The Punk Rock Minimalism of Sneaks’s Gymnastics

On D.C. musician Eva Moolchan’s cool, restrained debut

The songs on Sneaks’s debut album, Gymnastics, reissued this week on Merge Records, rarely go past the two-minute mark. Some of them, like the vocally repetitive “No Problem” or “Down in the Woods,” don’t even hit a minute. If there is a guiding principle to the steely, bass-heavy post-punk that D.C. musician Eva Moolchan records as Sneaks, it’s the idea that less is more. Her no-fuss, down-tempo arrangements call to mind the music of ’70s post-punk foremothers like Delta 5 or The Slits, only slowed down significantly, conveying her abstract callouts to those who “lack in passion” and her own anxiety with admirable musical restraint.

Moolchan’s lyrics play like abstract poems about paper cuts, building skeletons in the woods, and identifying the “true killer” within yourself. It’s the way she sings that grounds these outsider art–esque punk jams. There’s a mechanical coldness to her pacing and repetition, but also in how she sings individual words, which Moolchan has a way of spitting out, flicking lyrics like they’re cigarettes to a curb. “Anxiety, you take the best of me,” she sings confrontationally over the snaps of a drum machine and the gravelly riff of her bass guitar on “X.T.Y.” “You turn me inside out and then you ruin me.” “It’s-OK-to-feel-ashamed-by-the-things-you’ve-done-you’re-kind-of-lame,” she sings at the end of “Red,” stringing the words together like a run-on sentence, one that’s disguised as a pat on the back but curdles surprisingly at the end.

On Gymnastics, Moolchan often reaches for the uncomplicated: a preset drum beat, a bass line that doesn’t dare to wander, sneering lyrics that you can fit to your own ennui. But while her textures are minimal, there’s an undeniable energy to Sneaks, the way her words seem to creep slinkily across her music. The personality of Sneaks’s music, with its coolly delivered wisdom and biting cynicism, is ultimately anything but simple.