[3 February 2005]
The first full-length record from Northwest band These Arms Are Snakes bears two titles, Oxeneer and the exhaustive The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home. Perhaps the band has another, more deliberate motive for bestowing their creation with more than one moniker, but I would like to think that they did out of sheer indecisiveness—or at least because of a pretty strong reluctance to give up one title over the other. This is the only explanation that rings true after giving their record a few listens. It’s not an entirely bad thing either: indecision haunts a number of bands. In the right circumstances it can even be a virtue, allowing a vacillation between different styles and different talents, all the while maintaining a sense of wholeness that enthralls their fans rather than making them impatient. Anybody who makes things, whether it be rock songs, short stories, paintings, films or even (gasp) record reviews, knows how difficult it is to part with a line, lyric or shot that you created. But with very few exceptions, the decision to take something out in the service of the finished product, however much it pains you, can be the difference between mediocrity and genius.
I’m picking on the double-title thing not because it really matters but because of what it represents. Oxeneer, or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, or whatever, is kept from being a compelling record, despite the band’s obvious energy and talent. They simply don’t know when to say when. The result turns interesting compositions into over-produced tracks that are weighed down by too many competing ideas. It is clear that the TAAS aims to combine elements from a number of different genres, particularly hardcore, emo, punk, and electronic music. But instead of tactfully integrating the virtues of each genre, the band piles the ideas on top of each other in a way that is more confusing than it is innovative.
That is not to say that the record is without certain undeniable merits. Individually, it is clear that the four musicians who make up the band, guitarist Ryan Frederiksen, singer Steve Snare, drummer Erin Tate, and bassist Brian Cook, know what they are doing with their instruments. Almost all of the members are veterans of various other northwest bands such as Botch, Kill Sadie and Nineironspitfire; their combined experience gives each song a well-earned polish that is hard to ignore.
Additionally, the unabashed visibility of TAAS’s hardcore roots is refreshing in this post-everything musical landscape. Too many seasoned musicians are tripping over themselves to “remain relevant” without any reflection about what it really means to trade values and aesthetics in the service of a notoriously fickle scene.
Unfortunately, the same earnestness that connects TAAS to its emo-core lineage also keeps the band in a vague purgatory of a clinging adolescence that never quite reaches adulthood. This is especially apparent in the lyrics, which bear all the telltale signs of angst and condescension that continue to make this kind of music a favorite with teens whose worst enemies are their conservative parents and the popular kids at school. Sometimes the lyrics don’t make sense at all, such as this rhyming combination of lines from “Tracing Your Pearly Whites”: ‘This family blood runs through me thin as oil in water / My family blood cut through me clear like teeth made of sauter’.
Some of these songs succeed despite these shortcomings. “Angela’s Secret” opens with a buzzing moog line that acts almost like a dance beat against the frenetic drums; the song ebbs and flows between spurts of guitar and bass, but manages to stay focused on the original melodic line throughout the song. The nearly instrumental “Gadget Arms” fares similarly well, not the least because its simple guitar-led formula does not try to embellish itself with too many theatrics.
The elements that are most palpable here—driving guitars, earth-shattering bass, passionately-screamed lyrics—bristle with a rare intensity that almost achieves the raw excitement of a live show. I have a feeling that the live show is what these guys do best: the immediacy and simplicity of playing live would keep their songs loud, fast, and simple—exactly what they should have been in the first place.