Snakes of Pennsylvania’s eponymous release was among Field Hymns’ final releases of 2016. It should be noted that last year was a fantastic year for the label, and it remains one of my favorites. Field Hymns is usually my go-to spot for analog synth jams, but I always like a good deviation from expectations. The album remains in fairly subdued territory throughout, so maybe we aren’t too far afield after all.
Starting from the middle, with “Instrumental One,” we find a simply stated, spacious, analog synth-based track. There are a limited number of layers, which keeps the texture uncomplicated and focused. “Instrumental One” is based around a simple, descending minor third motive entering after a brief ambient introduction. A dissonant second line then begins to counter the motive, before fading into a lulling and bright coda.
The track that follows, “The Human,” may contrast arrangement-wise, but is agonizingly beautiful nonetheless. The hushed guitar melody comes from the same world as the quiet moments of any Explosions in the Sky song. However, here a single guitar fills the role of Explosions’ three while still managing to capture the ambiance in between the notes as they gather.
“Attack of Lyme” adds to the album’s already varied palette with a plucked steel string acoustic adding more presence to the sound. Synth sounds skitter across the landscape as fingers skid down guitar strings in the foreground. A similar acoustic guitar sound appears throughout “Kolbojnik,” which features an even more patient construction by taking long breaths between fragmented melodies within a minute long framework.“Snakes of Pennsylvania” successfully melds ambient analog synth sounds with guitars that both compliment and contrast. The synth sounds end up adding, surprisingly, to the Americana sounds generated by steel string guitars.