Chris Von Sneidern | California Redemption Music (Mastromonia)

Von Sneidern’s music here is relentlessly fun, even on the slower ballads. His songwriting approach feels like if you could smoosh Sloan’s Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson into one person, with an indefinable ’80s influence added just for kicks.

 

Chris von Sneidern is pop music’s best-kept secret. Since 1993, the singer/songwriter has released a whopping 12 albums of catchy power-pop that have earned him such fans as Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and John Wesley Harding, but very little recognition outside of the music industry.

Listening to von Sneidern’s latest album makes one wonder how such anonymity is possible. The melody of each and every song is so impeccably constructed that you can’t help but hum along, the instrumentation and arrangements are effortlessly enjoyable, and von Sneidern’s voice is as smooth as silk. But what really sets California Redemption Value apart is von Sneidern’s lyrical honesty, perfect for an album born out of an intense period of personal suffering.

After making a living writing songs and recording other artists for a decade at his own San Francisco studio, von Sneidern slowly lost everything to a sagging economy. He lost his girlfriend and, with her, his apartment. He lost his recording studio. He slowly sold off all of his possessions. In an attempt to dig his way out, von Sneidern left sunny California for dismal Seattle. After enduring depression and a ten-month chest cold, he returned to San Francisco. The homecoming reinvigorated him, and he gave birth to 11 “catchy-crap tunes,” as he calls them, to celebrate his homecoming.

Von Sneidern’s music here is relentlessly fun, even on the slower ballads. His songwriting approach feels like if you could smoosh Sloan’s Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson into one person, with an indefinable ’80s influence added just for kicks. His choice of covers is impeccable as well, with his faithful take on the Jackson Browne classic “These Days” (immortalized first by Nico) a particular highlight. The album peaks when an abbreviated “(I Left My Heart in) San Francisco” leads into “Tale of Two Cities,” an honest retelling of his move to Seattle and his return home to the Bay City told with witty, irreverent lyrics and the type of bouncy piano that would feel at home on Wilco’s Summerteeth. The guitar boogie of “Lonely Tonight” and the driving “If You Run to Me” continue the good-time vibe, completing a four-song run that is by far the album’s strongest.

When singing of his time in Seattle, von Sneidern says, “I factor in the depression/I’m not having fun.” Luckily, anyone listening to him tell the story certainly will.


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