Starting Five: These Arms Are Snakes

More or less an opportunity for the Internet to tell us we’re wrong, Starting Five is also a challenge: choose five essential songs, films, or books that get to the heart of bands, filmmakers, and writers that we love. Today we look at five essential songs from These Arms Are Snakes.

Starting Five: These Arms Are Snakes
by Chad Jewett

“Angela’s Secret”, Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
The second track on These Arms Are Snakes’ brilliant 2004 debut, Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, “Angela’s Secret” more or less sets the entire pattern for the Seattle quintet’s bristling, explosive approach to post-hardcore: an early, sidewinding bit of melody from a fuzz-damaged synthesizer; an angular riff that manages to balance its mathiness with real punch; a knack for making tension sound spacious – these are musical ideas that would define These Arms Are Snakes through three entire full-lengths. Add a wonderfully unhinged vocal performance from Steve Snere into the balance, and you have an early breakthrough for the PacNorthwest art-punk greats.

“Idaho”, Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
Clocking in at an epic 8 minutes and 40 seconds, “Idaho” is the grand, expansive denouement of Oxeneers Or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, a song that moves from an early lo-fi intro led by an organ that sounds for all the word like some 8-bit Atari creation to an explosive middle section (full of exactly the kind of sharp, wiry riffs and rapid-fire shouts that course throughout Oxeneers) to a quiet outro that teeters for two whole minutes between “pretty” and “ominous.” For most of their career These Arms Are Snakes excelled at either short-form bursts or long-form odysseys, and “Idaho” is one of their best examples of the latter.

“Horse Girl”, Easter
As with so much of 2006’s Easter, “Horse Girl” is a tightly-wound, rhythmically inventive barnburner that, at different points, calls to mind At The Drive In, Can, Led Zeppelin and the MC5. At this point, These Arms Are Snakes had grown confident enough in their dynamic, combustible attack that “Horse Girl” is catchy despite itself – a credit to the bouncy hooks that drummer Chris Common could carve into the band’s squall, and the tuneful opportunities that Steve Snere would make from those grooves (“So breathe slow and gnaw on / And breathe slow! / And gnaw on!”). A thousand bands made their version of late-90s Dischord art punk; These Arms Are Snakes were one of the few that also kept that scene’s ear for the defiantly catchy. “Horse Girl” found These Arms Are Snakes at the height of their powers, laser focused and utterly compelling.

“Prince Squid”, Tail Swallower and Dove
Tail Swallower and Dove was These Arms Are Snakes’ last LP, and their magnum opus. Recorded with precision and imagination by Chris Common and the band, Tail Swallower is one of post-hardcore’s all-time great headphone albums. The drums crack and tumble with kinetic energy; the band’s increasingly prominent synthesizers buzz and hum with widened presence. You can hear all of this on “Prince Squid”, the rumbling, roiling early highlight of the 2009 record. Here the focus is on interplay, with Steve Snere’s shouts punctuated by guitarist Ryan Frederiksen’s dense strums and undergirded by Chris Common’s masterful drumming. Despite being one of the shortest songs on Tail Swallower – which saw These Arms Are Snakes further indulging their penchant for sprawl – “Prince Squid” could go on forever and still be just as gripping, serving as one of the band’s most ideal showcases of finesse and sheer thumping impact.

“Seven Curtains”, Tail Swallower and Dove
Beginning with a quietly insistent guitar that recalls Fugazi circa-End Hits before expanding into an interesting swing-time roll (an interesting look for the band), “Seven Curtains” is a patient, mood-heavy centerpiece for Tail Swallower and Dove. There are hints of Nick Cave at work here, as well as fellow Emerald City denizens The Blood Brothers, although “Seven Curtains” stands out for breaking with These Arms Are Snakes habit for spinning off into a million directions (a habit Blood Brothers often shared), instead focusing on a verse/chorus format that gradually builds into its bombastic coda, earning its final punch-up instead of veering wildly into it. These Arms Are Snakes always had a thoughtful, modernistic approach to punk music but “Seven Curtains” evinced the band growing into new registers for their increasingly cerebral sound. That Tail Swallower was the band’s last album is a shame, but it’s also a testament to how hard These Arms Are Snakes worked at making interesting art out of unruly noise.

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Independent Music & Arts Criticism

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