Review Summary: A musically complex and thoroughly moving record, Familiaris is a masterpiece and instantly establishes Snooze as forward thinkers within their scene.
When an obscure mathy band from Chicago decide to make their debut full-length a concept album about the existence cycle of a dog (‘familiaris’ being the second half of their biological classification), you would be forgiven for approaching with caution, perhaps expecting something unnecessarily contrived, quirky or pretentious. If you’re going to go concept from the underground, the accepted wisdom may go, at least make it about fictional dystopias or mid-twenties existential crises, like everyone else. But Snooze have taken this idea and created something quite incredible.
It is obvious from its first moments that Familiaris is a step up from Snooze’s previous recording, the EP Actually, Extremely. The enhanced production values ensure that the album is a full-bodied, layered listening experience, with the full extent of the band’s musical proficiency evident. Guitar and bass weave around each other with great balance, moving through the full spectrum of genres visited, whilst the drums lock the songs down, tightening them with a momentum that safeguards against any aimless meandering or over-indulgence. Vocals, too, are given an extra boost, with guitarist Logan Voss taking over; his voice is arguably the most impressive aspect here, blending delicacy and power with a raw talent that imbues the music with all of the emotional heft that the lyrics allow.
And it is the lyrics which take Familiaris to the heights. Thinking through the aforementioned life of a dog – beginning with the evolution of the animal itself, then onto the arrival of our singular canine protagonist, his search for somewhere to belong, the joy of finding a home and navigating the meaning of his life before death and the afterlife – it is hard to believe that this album ended up as anything other than ridiculous. Yet throughout the album Voss manages to achieve moments of genuine emotional weight which are deeply affecting. Familiaris is of course a double-meaning, used to reference not only dogs’ classification within the animal kingdom but also their presence for so many of us as friends and family. In a beautiful refrain, the line ‘you’ll be someone’s best friend’ – appearing as the young dog seeks reassurance that he will find a home – is repeated later in the album as he faces the inevitable, his owners comforting him with the knowledge that ‘you were someone’s best friend… mine’.
In particular, that inevitable third act – in which our hero succumbs to old age, illness and his owner’s decision to euthanise – is a devastating conclusion and a profound expression of how all will feel during such moments in life, and showcases the shifting narrative voice which allows the songs to gain such emotional traction. At times we are given the dog’s perspective, careening between anxiety and wonderment with all the innocent naïveté of an infant. At other times, we are looking in as the owners, parental care-givers who ultimately have the dog’s fate in their hands. And a third narrative voice, that of omniscient figures who have an overview of our dog’s life from afar. All of these combine to tell a tale of love, life and loss that is as timeless as its dizzying, canine-themed delivery is innovative.
One of the surest indicators that the album succeeds is found in that fact that, like all great concept albums, it must be listened to as a whole. Taken out of context and listened to alone, the individual songs lose something. In an era of track cherry-picking, it is refreshing to encounter a record which rewards deep listening, paying attention and pondering on meaning throughout repeated plays. It is, after all, an album that appears to promise little and yet delivers so, so much – Familiaris is a work that is full of skill, full of craft and above all, full of feeling.