Review Summary: Rhythmic post-hardcore with a psychopathic edge.
These Arms Are Snakes - Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
My These Arms Are Snakes timeline is somewhat patchwork. I was one of those kids who checked out This Is Meant to Hurt You
because I was leafing through Alternative Press at Tower Records and they gave me a RIYL: The Blood Brothers, Thursday, At the Drive-In. A naive 16 year-old I checked it out and had a lukewarm reaction to all but one of the tracks, "Riding the Grape Dragon." It wasn't bad but it didn't ensnare like the Hopesfalls and Thrices of the post-hardcore world. Not enough catharsis, to cite an Alternative Press notion, I guess. Then last year, a seemingly more mature 20 year-old, I was recommended Easter
by a few people and checked it out. Easter
is a good compelling album, but once again I wasn't taken in by the These Arms Are Snakes sound, but did find a place in my heart for the catchiest, most inventive tracks like "Deer Lodge," "Child Chicken Play," and "Crazy Woman Dirty Train." Now that I'm 21, I'm checking out Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home
(to be referred to as Oxeneers
from here on out). I can't say I'm 100% in love with their tone here, but Oxeneers
is These Arms Are Snakes' best merging of traditional post-hardcore values and their own brand of rhythm-centric, angular music.
And it's this particular brand that continues to define These Arms Are Snakes, not their influences from elsewhere. This rhythmic approach is not unlike what Frodus was doing with their album Conglomerate International
; the focus is on rhythmic idiosyncrasies, texture, and interlocking between traditionally "melodic" instruments like the guitars and vocals rather than just the pair of drum and bass. In this model, chromaticisms are embraced as the focus isn't on creating instrumental parts that are too melodically or harmonically compelling, but parts that create interested layers and polyrhythms. Not to say melody and harmony are ignored, but they definitely take a back seat to the aforementioned musical traits. And as a result, songs can sit on harmonies for measures and measures at a time while having the interest of a song be in a particular groove or time shift. Take the opening track "The Shi
t Sisters," which doesn't change its harmony for the first 45 seconds and then after a brief interlude immediately goes back to the same harmony. However, the song shreds because of the overlapping parts and the thick, lovable grooves.
However, this focus on rhythm, while making it easier to dance/freak out/whatever to a These Arms Are Snakes song, sort of eliminates the possibility of emotional catharsis. In more traditional post-hardcore bands (and I guess emo as well), the gripping emotional content often comes from the way the harmonies and melodies change. When TAAS maintains static harmonies, such traditional devices are excluded. This is not to say that there's only one way to elicit an emotional reaction in music, but it certainly limits TAAS' possibilities by excluding a whole genre's worth of musical techniques. Also, such an exclusion would be welcome if TAAS provided an alternative way of attaining such an emotional reaction, or made their other components so awesome that the emotional reaction comes from the rhythm or something else, but this scenario is not the case. These Arms Are Snakes definitely hit a ceiling by excluding these traditional devices from their music. Some songs like "Your Pearly Whites" and "La Stanza Bianca" provide some great chord progressions and memorable melodies, but excluding those tracks, the album feels like it gets wrapped up in its own rhythms so much that it ignores anything else, like on the unfortunate "Greeting from the Great North Woods." Though, this effect is obviously a trade off, as TAAS explores new frontiers in other musical traits.
One such trait that is wonderfully developed on Oxeneers
is use of tone, particularly stemming from production. Listening to just the opening of tracks like "The Shi
t Sisters" or "Your Pearly Whites" is an exhibition of wonderful production values. All of the instruments have wonderfully well-defined sounds and tones, and the sounds switch up from section to section. The only other band I've heard that rivals TAAS' use of tone is Glassjaw on Worship and Tribute
, which I think is one of the best produced albums of all time. To look more specifically, listen to the opening of "Your Pearly Whites," a song that also seems to throwback to the more traditional post-hardcore values by having emotive singing and some interesting harmonic choices. The echo in the solo guitar is very alluring and is a linchpin for the rest of the song. The bass tone is perfectly grainy and imitates a synthesizer. In fact, the more I listen to it the more I switch between thinking it's a bass or synth. The vocal tone is also quite impressive. The vocals are mixed down and slightly distorted, which is prevalent throughout the album, and as a result the vocals sound more like another instrument instead of the primary songwriting device like it does in so many other post-hardcore bands. Sometimes it gets annoying when the vocals are more archetypal in their shouting, but in general this effect is appreciated, particularly on the stand out tracks.
I'm also impressed with the musicianship and instrumental prowess on this album. All of the asymmetric time signatures are executed with ease and even a groove to it all. The guitar, synth, and bass are all awesome in how angular and interesting the individual voices are. Oxeneers
, more so than their EP, and maybe even more so than Easter
, favors seemingly endless guitar riffs that repeat very playfully and intricately. The undulating bass, particular on "La Stanza Bianca" (which is essentially the "Deer Lodge" of Oxeneers
) is massively impressive. Lingering on the instrumental abilities of this band seems a little redundant though as this really stems from their communal sense of rhythm that allows every part to intertwine in an interesting fashion. The lyrics, fitting in with TAAS being an unconventional yet intelligent take on post-hardcore provides poetry that is sufficiently cerebral, convoluted, and chillingly unemotional. Some of the coolest lyrical moments are almost psychopathic in their charm.
Originally Posted by Your Pearly Whites
I want to be able to sick my fist in your mouth and feel all 32.
You look so beautiful with a full set of teeth and a great mouth to chew.
It's through such odd lyrical presentations that TAAS create their oddly unemotional lyrical content to match their musical content. A fitting combo, and quite effective when presented lyrically.
In the end, Oxeneers
is interesting as hell. There are clutch aspects to the TAAS style but there are also some limiting features. I wish they wouldn't have such static harmonies, and would occasionally let the vocals loose a little more. However, the production, instrumentals, and general sense of rhythm is amazing, and sends TAAS to the upper crust of the post-hardcore world. Unfortunately, without the emotional aspects, it's difficult to give oneself up to their style without reservations. In the words of Eminem, I can't "lose [my]self" like I can with more complete bands like Glassjaw and Thrice. Oxeneers
is TAAS' best current (circa mid-2007) album and should not be overlooked but also shouldn't be put on a pedestal for its rhythmic ingenuity.
Recommended Tracks: La Stanza Bianca, The Shi
t Sisters, You Pearly Whites, and seriously get the song "Deer Lodge" from their album Easter