Snowman: “The Last Train Outta Town” (Snowman, 2006)
I considered saving this one for my year-end wrap-up, which I’ll be doing in December, but this song came up on the shuffle yesterday and I was too excited about it to wait.
Really, I could have chosen any number of Snowman songs, but this one’s on the brain, so I’ll roll with it. Snowman broke up earlier this year after three LPs and a mini-album. Their final album, Absence, is a lock for my 2011 top five and has been since it came out—“Last Train Out Of Town” hails from their debut, though, when they were a much different band, musically.
Snowman were a special band to me for more than their music. First, let me explain that I’m not a scene-y person. I think a lot of people have a perception that music critics are all constantly out at shows and pulling strings to go backstage and showing up at Brooklyn loft parties where there are artists to rub shoulders with. For some of my colleagues, this is a reality, but I’ve been a music critic in some capacity for eleven years now, and it never has been for me.
I’ve lived in Boston, the northern suburbs of Chicago, Fayetteville, Arkansas and now the Detroit area in that time, and I have only ever had contact with a few artists, and only ever gotten to know a tiny few in any kind of personal way. Snowman was one of them.
I actually met them in their homeland, Australia, at, well, an afterparty when I was on one of the only jet-set assignments I’ve ever had, covering the Laneway Festival in Melbourne and Sydney. I’d seen them perform earlier that day, and it was one of those rare, absolutely face-melting performances that sticks with you and overshadows everything else you’re seeing at the festival.
I found myself sitting next to them in a bar and started talking to them, and immediately it wasn’t like a journalist/artist conversation, but more of a people with mutual interests conversation. They had one album out at the time and were in the early planning stages of a move to London. The band formed in Perth, which is about the most edge-of-the-world city on earth, and they’d done all they could do without moving to somewhere bigger and more connected. Somewhere more proximal to the wider musical world.
I followed their music after that, even had the occasional friendly exchange. They made two more LPs and both were great—it was an odd sort of relief when the first one they released after I met them (The Horse, The Rat And The Swan) turned out to be one of the best I heard that year. That’s one of my favorite albums, period, these days.
The band’s move to England helped a bit, but it also ultimately ended the band. The rhythm section moved to Iceland to start a new life together. The band’s two guitarist/vocalists, Joe McKee and Andy Citawarman, have both moved on to other musical projects that I have little doubt will produce more excellent music. But Snowman definitely leaves a space no one else will be able to fill.
This song offers a small hint of the unique vision that made this band special—this is that vision in its embryonic form, when the elements that comprised it were still largely unmixed. You can hear the tribal music, surf guitars, hard rock, glam rock, industrial, avant garde and ambient tendencies of the band at the moment of collision, before they recombined them into a more seamless whole.
McKee (verses) and Citawarman (chorus) both sing here, and I love the tension between their differing approaches. McKee’s voice is portentous and kind of foreboding; Citawarman’s is much more exuberant, and he has a pretty freaky falsetto he can get to pretty much whenever he wants. The instrumental break with the sax and electric violin is awesome, too.
I’m going to miss this band a lot. They did their own thing from start to finish, and did it really well, making a couple of my favorite records in the process. I revisit them often.