October 13, 2006
THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES [I]EASTER[/I] REVIEW
Easter, the second and highly anticipated full-length from These Arms Are Snakes, is finally upon us. But just how anticipated was this album? Well it is no coincidence that the album leaked to the Internet three months prior to its official release date. It's also no coincidence that every review that I've read has been written by a journalist smitten by Easter. People love this band, a lot. I am no different; I have been dreamy-eyed with These Arms Are Snakes since hearing This is Meant to Hurt You and am just as infatuated now as ever before.
It is often said that the first song on an album sets the tone for everything that follows. Though I doubt These Arms are Snakes took this into consideration, they really know how to get things rolling. These Arms Are Snakes begin with “Mescaline Eyes,” a nearly five-minute track composed of everything that makes this band so damn good: Ryan Frederiksen's angular guitar notes, the vibrant bass playing of Brian Cook, tasteful drumming provided by newcomer and producer Chris Common that is never too overbearing but always prevalent, a variety of keyboard and guitar effects adding a whole other dimension to the sound, and Steve Snere's emotive vocals - both sung and soft-spoken – that add to the atmosphere and mood created by the music. There is even a unique solo - it appears to be a combination of guitars, bass, and keys - at the halfway mark of the song that brought to mind 70's psychedelic rock or recent stoner-metal groups like Witch.
“Horse Girl” follows with a bit more upbeat tempo than the preceding song. Common did an excellent job highlighting the bass work of Cook, which is what I feel is the distinguishing element of These Arms Are Snakes' sound. Another interesting turn of events is in the latter portion of the song where Snere lets lose some intense screams. This is a little out of character for him, but it's an addition that, if used more in the future, could take the band to a whole other level.
The highlight moment of Easter comes in the form of “Subtle Body.” The song opens with a rather ominous vibe provided by Cook's keys. After that opening sequence, Cook's bassplaying takes over and leads the music towards its final destination. His work on bass is truly impeccable throughout this song and the entire album for that matter. It is perfectly accented by Frederiksen's guitars, which transition through a variety of different styles - twisting one moment, atmospheric the next - over the course of the song. At times its almost as though the two are dancing with each other.
This is followed up by “Desert Ghost,” an instrumental interlude that is comprised of a simple drum arrangement and keys that almost sound like bells. Mixed amongst the two is a multitude of swirling noise effects. These Arms Are Snakes throw in another interlude later, “Hell's Bank Notes.” This one, however, is essentially nothing more than spaced-out atmospheric noise that elevates in volume as the seconds run off.
By now, as a seasoned fan of These Arms Are Snakes, I can say that I've got some idea of what the typical style of the band is. “Child Chicken Play” and “Abracadabra” are good examples of this, the latter of which is quite reminiscent of the sound found on Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When its Antelopes Go Home. But it is nice to see the band experiment with styles outside of those boundaries, even if they are hypothetical ones that I drew up myself. “Perpetual Bris,” is an acoustic number that features the use of an accordion (can't remember the last time I heard one of those in music that wasn't polka), something I never really would have guessed them to experiment with. It actually sounds quite a bit like brother-band Roy. The song also features the vocal talents of Cook; its really intriguing when the main vocalist allows one of his fellow band members handle the vocal duties. Cook's contribution is different, but it still evokes great emotion; I was quite pleased with how the song came out.
On the other hand we have the album closer, “Crazy Woman Dirty Train.” It is here that These Arms Are Snakes are at their most frantic and urgent. Midway through there is a series of repeating riffs as Snere yells out repeatedly “Though it was love that once pumped through these veins, I was also loved once. Once.” Then the band cuts loose; the pace quickens to a rate I've never heard them perform at as Snere shouts out his words. And then it all falls apart into a mathy breakdown of highly distorted bass, keys, and guitars. It's really a feat that needs to be heard; I know my words aren't doing it justice.
Lyrically, Snere writes in a rather obtuse format. His thoughts seem to be a series of standards thoughts and metaphors arranged in a James Joyce inspired stream of consciousness. And while they are not nearly as bad as The Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala, they still remain rather vague in their meaning. It'd be an interesting conversation to sit down with Snere to decipher the words' true meaning, especially since his vocals come off as though they are saying so much more than just the words that roll of his tongue. I actually feel bad for not understanding them at times.
Easter is truly a listening experience. Regardless of how it rates in comparison to These Arms Are Snakes' other material, Easter is an outstanding record, one that should not be passed up by anyone.
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