September 24, 2004
THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES [I]OXENEERS OR THE LION SLEEPS WHEN ITS ANTELOPE GO[/I] REVIEW
"This Is Meant To Hurt You" was a debut effort that had many excited long before it was even released for public consumption - largely due in part to the ravenous cult fanbase that the musicians involved had propagated prior to These Arms Are Snakes' alignment. Diehard followers heard former members of Kill Sadie and Botch were collaborating on a new project and suddenly the Northwest was alive with drooling fanboys imagining orgasmic hardcore eruptions. Though the group certainly launched from the gate with a style devoid of the hardcore muscle many expected; they offered something intricate, spacey and complicated enough to appease the indie faithful ready for nothing short of the holy grail. For all the buzz that surrounds the group, expectations were held (impossibly?) high for the Seattle three-piece (drummer Joe Preston and keyboardist Jesse Robertson quietly exited the ensemble once returning from tour). With the help of Minus The Bear drummer Erin Tate, These Arms Are Snakes have rebounded admirably, proudly brandishing the brilliant seizure known as "Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home" at listeners with a middle finger towards those who dare even mouth the word "hype".
The year they spent on the road may have resulted in some unfortunate departures, but with one listen to the album it is clear that the time spent honing their sound night after night has paid dividends. This is a continuation of the ideals shown on their earlier EP and a redefinition of the very essence of what These Arms Are Snakes are about. The caustic unpredictability of "This Is Meant To Hurt You" has given way to a newfound confidence and energy resplendent in rich electronic inclusions. Plus an unconventionally roundabout way of songwriting that embraces hooks without resorting to the traditional bells & whistles paint by number design. Brian Cook proves to be as comfortable on the keyboard as he is at handling the bass duties, and this proves to be as vital an instrument to the band as Ryan Frederiksen's guitar or Steve Snere's vagabond vocals. Whether teasing with darkly ambient passages, svelte trip-hop dalliances or pulsating drum & bass experimentation, this inclusion thickens the group's melting pot of sounds.
Matt Bayles production is phenomenal in capturing each note and discordant squeal with equal emphasis. Where the bands previous material had a decidedly garage feel, echoey and uneven in its delectable imperfection, "Oxeneers..." is a whole new beast which allows each member to be singled out and focused upon rather than hidden by one another. Cook's arduous bass procedures are just as vibrant as Frederiksen's distortion-filled string-articulation. The track "Gadget Arms" is a perfect example. Being little more than an indulgent eight minute instrumental of searing distortion and droning dissonance, it gives the band a chance to move beyond conventional song design and instead build skyscrapers of sound that illuminate just how talented this outfit are when given the chance to simply jam. The band also prove to be just as capable at making ear-catching indie rock gems, as cuts such as "Big News" and "Darlings Of New Midnight" are serrated blades that cut with toe-tapping energy. "Your Pearly Whites" is perhaps the gleaming jewel that is found in the middle of this delectable oyster, as Snere's impassioned vocals and the hauntingly melodic slow build is exquisitely crafted to capture his enigmatic lyrical content.
Rather than be daunted by the ridiculous hype surrounding them since the group's very conception, These Arms Are Snakes have used such accolades and praise to elevate their game to the next level. The band have eclipsed themselves with this, their full-length debut, as "Oxeneers..." ostensibly maximizes every single fiber that made up their core sound on the "This Is Meant To Hurt You" EP, while simultaneously incorporating a plethora of titillating new concepts and textures to the post-punk extravaganza. Essentially, this album is Pop Rocks & Coca-Cola; the spider babies in your bubblegum. The big urban myth of indie rock... that of an album that is as indulgent and irresistible as it is intellectual (and even accessible!) has been realized and proven to be fact by these Seattle musicians. They have given birth to an indie prodigy that is as tuneful as it is tactical in its execution. Delivering an indictment of society and its monetary obsession all the while being an album that personifies the perfection of music in 2004. Rambunctious indie rock, cynical art-punk, progressive post-hardcore; all are telltale genre classifications that feel far too cumbersome and somehow lacking in truly depicting what these musicians excrete. "Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home" is genuine, it is original and it is undoubtedly one of the year's very best offerings.
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