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October 30, 2004

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Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, in all of its nonsensically titled glory, escaped my interest until it gently fell into my hands (which sadly happens a lot). These Arms Are Snakes, while housing former members of widely-recognized, pioneering acts like Botch, isn't a particularly heavy or metallic band. In fact, the material on Oxeneers or the Lion... is surprisingly accessible and inviting, but the band doesn't let that detract from their quirky and experimental tendencies. It's carefully balanced.

What came as unexpected on Oxeneers or the Lion... was the contrast between progressive, lengthy songs and accessible numbers. These Arms Are Snakes doesn't deviate from their solidified style too often, but specific songs are certainly more atypical than others. The band wisely opened the effort with three immediately gratifying songs in the three-minute range. "The Shit Sisters" introduces the band with stop-start guitar riffing, vocalist Steve Snere's characteristic mix of clean singing and yells, and an array of electronics. "Big News" and "Angela's Secret" follow in similar suit, and the latter's simplistic rhythms make it dangerously catchy.

From there, though, the band begins to defy more rules, especially on "Gadget Arms." The song clocks in at over eight minutes and has only a sparse vocal presence. For a good portion of the song the band is producing a strange mix of minimal percussion, bass and dissonant, electronic noises. And while it seems self indulgent, it ebbs and flows through various motions and eventually comes back to earth near the end, which makes it time well spent.

These Arms Are Snakes will likely be labeled as experimental indie rock, post-hardcore or something equally meaningless. But overall, the band isn't restrained by genres and, in turn, doesn't sound similar to many other groups. Brian Cook's use of electronics helps the band achieve a unique identity and, even though they're a four-piece, gives them a full, varied sound. Cook also plays the bass guitar, which has a notably forceful presence. Guitarist Ryan Frederiksen contributes an interesting blend of jagged, stop-start riffs and meandering, spacey picking patterns. "Angela's Secret," "La Stanza Bianca" and "Darling of New Midnight" all use this formula and have some far-reaching, atmospheric passages.

More simply, the music is inspired and detailed. There aren't any contrived tendencies or clichés and none of the songs are worthy of the demoralizing skip button.

The lyrics, while worded in an ambiguous manner so as to fit the music, address issues more important than failed romances. The closer, "Idaho," is skin-tingling, especially at the end, when Snere yells "My life has become dry because of you. Insomnia, paranoia, anxiety, dependence, relentless, worthlessness. You stole all my love, you stole all my love, and I want it back. We are animals swinging too far towards distant vines. May your lips never touch your timecard again." Through a number of songs runs a theme of living life for things other than monetary possessions and related struggles, which I appreciate.

While jagged and unpredictable, Oxeneers or the Lion... is seriously addictive and catchy. With some exposure, These Arms Are Snakes should catch on with a diverse group of listeners. I don't think I'll ever remember this album's title in its entirety, but I sure as hell catch myself recalling these songs on a regular basis.