Emo kids, are you out there? Or did you all go dance-punk last summer? In any case, your old best friend, Jade Tree, just called. He said he doesn’t like you anymore. His friend These Arms Are Snakes wants to meet you in the playground after school and knock you senseless.
Sure, it’s the aural equivalent of Goliath taking on a horn-rimmed David, but I can’t help rooting for the bully to beat the piss out of that little snot (how’s that for mixed bodily-function metaphors?). Not because the Jade Tree bands that got tagged “emo” sucked (they didn’t, and they don’t), but because this clever quintet rocks hard enough to also decimate another recent rock media trend: the provenance of garage rock. Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be dumbed-down or over-simplified: A bunch of geeks singing lyrics like “You are destined to become a tree” can make your speakers explode just fine.
In other words: Jack White, are you out there? These Arms Are Snakes wants to meet you in the playground…
These Arms Are Snakes are intent on not being the ones with the broken hearts (or, now that I mentioned the White Stripes lead pugilist, broken bones). The band’s debut EP is titled This Is Meant to Hurt You, and unless you are used to hardcore, it just might. This energetic rock sound draws from the 1980s D.C. punk scene, shattering ear drums with distortion and fast, complex noise. The frantic bass guitar jumps around like a Super Ball with a mind of its own and enough amphetamine to kill a cow.
But wait, what was I saying about the lyrics? They’re hard to discern due to Steve Snere’s shouted punk-rock style and the raucous guitars often playing counterpoint to his melody on songs like “Riding the Grape Dragon”. But explore for a moment the lyrics to “Drinking from the Neck of the Ones You Love”: “Every romantic moment / Every infatuation / Every souvenir I ever gave you will disappear / I will disappear / I’m meant for you / Everything is always meant for you / Everything was meant to hurt you / This was meant to hurt you”.
Dang, Ma: That there’s emo! Or at the very least, it represents a rebuilding of the male emotional defenses in order to once again keep romantic objects at a distance, after so many rockers dropped them in the spirit of emo. First there was hardcore, then there was emo-core, and now with These Arms Are Snakes the two are as intertwined as they have been in these post-Dashboard Confessional times. Listeners know now that even the toughest punks have real emotions beneath the surface, but these punks have redoubled their armor of noise to keep girls from hurting them again. These Arms Are Snakes doesn’t make typical hardcore, and it doesn’t make rock ‘n’ roll Live Journals. It plays off the expectations of both and fashions something new out of them.
A rock band in the new millennium that’s neither retro nor electronic? How novel! The band could do more to set these songs apart from each other, and it would be nice if the lyrics were better articulated, but this is an impressive debut. Whether these former members of hardcore bands like Botch and Kill Sadie will be able to convert it into an equally impressive full-length remains to be seen. Yet if they should come to beat me up, I won’t be scared, because now I know that beneath a sound that hits harder than fellow Seattle-ites the NFL’s Seahawks are a bunch of heartbroken, scared shitless emo kids.
Meanwhile, I’m staying away from the playground.