The new 11-song album by Seattle’s These Arms Are Snakes might be one of the longest titles ever conceived for a punk rock record: "Oxeneers, or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home."
More importantly, this intelligently done CD, with its sprawling instrumentation, biting social critique and artsy dialectics, marks a distinct and open-ended approach to punk. "Oxeneers" has the promise of being a big influence on a new generation of underground music fans and musicians.
Steve Snere, vocalist for These Arms Are Snakes, seems to sense the possibilities.
"I realize now that people are coming to this band and an opportunity is being presented to us," he told Alternative Press magazine last spring. "I would like to change the way these young kids view things — that would be the best thing I could possibly ask for."
Snere and his bandmates (guitarist Ryan Frederiksen, bassist Brian Cook, drummer Erin Tate) cut their teeth in the sometimes-rigid hard-core scene before playing in such underground units as Kill Sadie, Nineironspitfire and Botch. As even a cursory listen to "Oxeneers" reveals, the members of These Arms Are Snakes have developed a sensibility that outstrips formula and restrictions.
"Oxeneers" offers a surprising balance of delicacy and aggression, a blend of subgenres that ranges from dubby prog-rock to thrashy noise and includes complex song structures. Snere slips a hint of hip-hop diction into "Your Pearly Whites"; "Gadget Arms" is an ominous, mostly instrumental, eight-minute track best described as abstract punk; "Idaho" shifts perspectives in a dizzying spiral of pump organ, jittery guitar, odd time signatures and unique animal imagery that inspires the CD’s title.
Pretty impressive for a band that’s been together for only two years and has featured a rotating cast of characters. Two founding members, keyboardist Jesse Robertson and drummer Joe Preston, no longer play in the group, and Ben Verellen will fill in on drums for Tate during the band’s current tour.
Speaking by phone from Seattle, Frederiksen, 27, talked about the group’s formation.
"Nobody knew what we wanted this band to be when we first started," he says. "We just kind of jammed, but we started figuring each other out really well. Now it’s become a lot more concentrated and focused."
As "Oxeneers" bears out, These Arms Are Snakes has found its groove in part by liberating itself from formulaic hard-core. "To stick to one genre is just stupid," Frederiksen says. "You just kind of start expanding your horizons a little bit at a time."
The band will expand its geographic horizons while touring for most of the rest of 2004, including a two-week stint in Great Britain.
And the band, Frederiksen notes, isn’t even in high gear yet.
"We just got done (with ‘Oxeneers’), and we’re already looking forward to the next album," he says. "We want to come back from tour and write new songs as fast as possible."