Snippet - DIY
Record label: Rash Records
Release date: July 1, 2013
Johnno Casson is a very, very, busy fellow. Casson writes, publishes, and performs under three different identities: Johnno Casson, Old Tramp, and Snippet. For musicians like Casson, being a DIY artist allows him to capture the moment when inspiration hits, and in his case it hits quite frequently. Snippet is just one layer of the onion- one which has produced 4 EPs, an album, and contributed a song to the critically acclaimed compilation, Modular Pursuits (a collection of songs written by the Welsh artist Pulco). Snippet’s latest effort, DIY is Casson’s third release within the last 12 months from his home studio in Colchester, England. Like I said- he’s a very, very busy fellow.
DIY is an aesthetic battle cry for some musicians- one which Snippet embraces and holds on to for dear life- a compelling enough reason for him to appropriate the battle cry as the album title. As Snippet, Casson screams the aesthetic loudly and with a delightful sense of funky sarcasm. The seed of this album came via a recently discovered box of cassettes from old answering machines on which Casson and his children had recorded the outgoing messages. And the Casson family members made a lot of very interesting messages over the years. Rather than smile sentimentally and then toss the box- Casson constructed DIY around this collection of magnetically degraded lo-fi greetings (or in some cases, very polite blow-offs) and the album plays like a brilliant mixtape of hellos and good-byes.
The opener, “Let’s Talk About Us” sets the table in terms of Casson’s writing, vibe, and engineering. For Snippet, like many DIY musicians, the sonics of the recording and mix are part of the songwriting process- and this song sets the bar. “Let’s Talk About Us” starts with a punchy and lush acoustic guitar, which collides with a classic funk beat, and settles into a lounge-y groove. The story, like many in the Snippet catalogue, is purposefully self-centered and bordering on narcissistic- in a very me vs. you sort of way. A clash of expectations is expressed in the recurring line, “Let’s talk about us, but focus on me.” This concept of duality runs throughout the album. “Come To My Party” – similarly set to a folk-funk beat- would make great background music at a party. But this is Snippet talking politics- in a manner that sounds so casual and vacuous- you have to listen closely to discover that he’s singing about the alienation between the average person and British political parties. In Snippet-world, a bad party is a bad party.
If you casually listen to DIY, it might sound like a parody- and even a bit over the top in some spots (like the rave-up tribute to the DIY philosophy in “Celebration”). But when you consider that Casson is also playing all of the instruments, painstakingly constructing beats, and building a very amped mix- you realize that DIY was a rather complex undertaking- and Casson might not be the caricature he wants you to think he is.
Snippet is a genre-bending project, with a range of musical styles and arrangements. The label “folk pop” has been often applied to Casson’s music- and I quarrel with that classification. Sure, there is almost always a folk guitar in the mix, but there are also elements of down-tempo techno and rock. Curiously phrased harmonies, layered arrangements, and sampled percussion are punctuated with creative keyboards. Snippet can go quiet and minimal or big and loud- and Snippet knows EXACTLY when to flip that switch. The writing is literary, smart, and sometimes caustic- which is cleverly disguised behind poppy keyboards and that strummy-strummy acoustic guitar.
The diversity of Snippet’s writing on DIY is shines in “Gone to Ground,” which begins with a softly picked acoustic guitar and piano, which are joined by a very sparse drum kit and almost inaudible ambient sounds. It’s a haunting ballad about hitting the bottom, a classic rock theme, but without the usual clichés. Nothing fancy here- no disguises, no dress-up, just a guy telling you that he’s worn out and done, and the music matches perfectly. While sonically, “Gone to Ground” is like nothing else on the album- it shows that Snippet can make minimal arrangements sound beautiful. Snippet as the sad clown: that recurring duality.
The songs that comprise DIY are punctuated by a series of very creative and personal home answering machine messages. The inclusion of Casson’s family in the DIY project was essential- and fitting with the aesthetic. The on-the-spot-make-it-up-as-you-go rendition of the song “Comics” highlights the creativity of the little Snippets, and how a primitive recording of a little kid awkwardly winging it was good enough, and brave enough, to make it onto the album. In many respects, DIY is a brave album- it is a confessional and a rant- wrapped in warm production, a rave, a dash of folk, and with a splash of funk.