Durham transplant Colin Sneed has married a mischievous literary sensibility to an uncanny knack for big-ticket hooks and snarling guitars, a cocktail he renders with the insouciant panache of a gutter-rat intellectual. These proclivities date back to Sneed's days fronting the Oxford, Mississippi, power-pop terrors Unwed Teenaged Mothers, and they've stayed consistent throughout the course of a prolific and frequently thrilling solo career.
On his newest effort, Empty and Open All Night, Sneed hones his melodic and lyrical gifts to a razor's edge sharpness, all slash-and-burn riffs and outré-digressions, weaponized to precision over the course of nine tracks running under twenty-five minutes.
Sneed makes his intentions known from the gate, opening with the one-two punch of the Small Faces-played-on-78 stomp of' "5/13/1931" followed by the pop moves of the gleefully unhinged "Plane." While hooks are plentiful, tracks like the woozy, drum-machine-backed "Bleeder" and the ominous closer, "Drug Dead," hint at the anxiety resting just beneath the surface of this largely genial collection.
Part of that barely sublimated anxiety may have to do with the Reverend Jim Jones. After reading Jeff Guinn's 2017 book, The Road to Jonestown, Sneed became fascinated by the infamous 1978 cult massacre, and several songs on Empty and Open All Night reference those events in all of their macabre ecstasy and terror. "Marceline" in particular is chilling in this regard, with its reverse "Jumping Jack Flash"-riff ringing out like an incantation to the doomed.
Following Empty and Open All Night—Sneed's best release yet—it will be fun to see where his unique surfeit of talents takes him. With a pop sensibility that largely runs traditional competing with an emotional attraction to chaos, he could end up being Johnny Thunders or Tom Petty. One way or the other, he's going to end up being something.