Review: ‘Totem,’ Snake Rattle Rattle Snake

Photo: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake 'Totem' album cover

Colorado is home to a great deal of extroverted rock music. One might claim 300 days of sunshine a year will ostensibly produce music that invites us to smile, sing and clap along.

Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is the soundtrack for the other 65 days.

Following acclaimed 2011 debut “Sineater” -- named “Best New Recording” of 2012 by Westword -- the Denver quintet has returned three years later with an album that improves upon an already remarkable post-punk craftsmanship.

Joy Division is an easy parallel to SRRS’ music: both are characterized by prominent bass lines, synthesizer tones that favor moodiness over flashiness and stern reverberated vocals.

And if “Sineater” is the band’s “Unknown Pleasures,” a darkly magnetic debut with rough-around-the-edges production, then “Totem” is their “Closer,” a turn to polished art-rock that ups the ante on atmosphere, but never at the expense of songwriting.

From the opening moments of “Evil Eye” on, it’s easy to hear the strides multi-instrumentalist Wilson Helmericks has taken production-wise: though Snake Rattle has kept four-fifths of its lineup intact, “Totem” feels sleeker, slimmer and broodier.

Undoubtedly, the album’s long gestation -- the band began tracking songs in early 2013 -- contributed to the entrancing, layered mixes on standout songs like “Hiding in the Pale Walls” and “Wellaway.”

The cold dominance of the animal kingdom is a theme that arises now and again on the album: “You root for the antelope / I root for the lion” intones vocalist Hayley Helmericks on “Versus.” The record’s most unnerving song is “Wild Dogs.” And of course, there are numerous references to those slithering reptiles of which the group is so fond.

By taking a few steps away from humanity, “Totem” is a record firmly secure in the darkness. If you’ve witnessed the band’s live show in the past year, that’s how they prefer to perform its songs -- and how they’re best enjoyed.