Music

These Arms Are Snakes: Tail Swallower & Dove

Mehan Jayasuriya

These snakes have lost their bite.


These Arms Are Snakes

Tail Swallower & Dove

Label: Suicide Squeeze
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06
Amazon
iTunes

The early 2000s were a good time for post-hardcore fans. The first half of this decade saw the sub-genre redefined by a handful of pivotal releases: At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command, the Blood Brothers' Burn, Piano Island, Burn and These Arms Are Snakes' Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When its Antelope Go Home. Of the three bands cited, only These Arms Are Snakes (often abbreviated as TAAS) are still around, though that's not too surprising, considering that the band was the youngest of the bunch, having formed from the ashes of Botch and Kill Sadie in 2003. A few months after releasing a promising EP, 2003's This is Meant to Hurt You, the band returned with Oxeneers, a sprawling, complex and narrative-rich record that belied the band's young age. Sure, the record was heavy, making good use of the crashing drums and mathy guitars that had long been a hallmark of the Pacific Northwest post-hardcore scene. But it was also by turns eerie, slinky and atmospheric. Unlike most of their peers, TAAS chose to temper the Oxeneers flashes of ferocity with prolonged, proggy codas and deep synth grooves. The end result was an album that both appreciated and fully exploited the familiar tension/release dynamic. Which is to say that These Arms Are Snakes once understood that the fear of a bite is sometimes worse than the venom itself.

Sadly, Tail Swallower & Dove, the band's latest full-length, serves as a testament to how both TAAS and post-hardcore as a whole have lost the plot in recent years. The album continues the downward trajectory that began with 2006's Easter, building on that album's monotony, repetitiveness and tedium. If Oxeneers is the rare hardcore album that makes you think, Tail Swallower & Dove is the rare hardcore album that lulls you to sleep.

A substantial share of the blame can be placed on the album's dynamics. Most of the LP's 43-minute run time finds the band firing on all cylinders, largely abandoning the bait-and-switch technique employed on earlier releases. Opening number "Woolen Heirs" sounds like a mash-up of previous TAAS tunes, alternating between ringing guitars, pinch harmonics and squelchy synths, though an underpinning of palm-muted guitars chug throughout. "Prince Squid" is driven by a great double-bass drum beat but sounds more like hard rock, with repetitive bar chords anchoring vocalist Steve Snere's yell-and-response vocals. Meanwhile, "Red Line Season" rocks like old TAAS, marrying a low organ growl with a series of finger-twisting riffs. While the song sounds promising at the outset, by the time we reach the chorus, it becomes quite clear that we're not going to hear anything new.

Still, Tail Swallower & Dove isn't all bad. "Lucifer" is anchored by a fantastic, compressed synth line that recalls the Blood Brothers' "Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon". The song's drums tumble in fits and starts as Snere mumbles under his breath like a man at the end of his rope. Dishearteningly, however, the lyrics on "Lucifer" -- or on any of the album's other tracks, for that matter -- aren't worth pulling out the insert for. While Oxeneers chronicled the ennui, desperation and anxiety of blue-collar workers, single-mothers and office drones in a series of visceral, evocative narratives, the lyric sheet for Tail Swallower & Dove reads like a list of hardcore clichés. Most of the songs seem to address, in vague, largely inscrutable terms, either death, sex, decay or some combination thereof. If you're going to write a record full of lyrically impenetrable songs, you might as well take a cue from Seattle's patron saint of punk rock and at least hint at some deeper meaning.

Overall, Tail Swallower & Dove will fail to satisfy all but the most fervent TAAS fans. While the album sounds, at times, like the Snakes that we've come to know and love, it ultimately leaves the listener with little to chew on. Where previous TAAS records pushed forward into uncharted territory, Tail Swallower & Dove hopes only to evoke past glories, though its songs feel hollow and structurally simple by comparison. This isn't entirely unexpected given the rut that post-hardcore seems to be mired in, but it's still awfully disappointing. After all, These Arms Are Snakes were once looked to as leaders -- now they're just re-tracing the contours of their own past. Don't let the cover fool you: this album is more sheep than wolf.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image