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September 23, 2004

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You know you’ve reached a certain peak of maturity/lameness/mindlessness (okay, just plain age) when you start to enjoy wearing work clothes. It saddens me that I get a little uncomfortable in my band tees on the weekends, feeling like it must be housecleaning day, or that I’m just scrubby, unkempt, or past the age limit. Still, in my structured jacket and fitted slacks – not yet able to pull off a pillbox hat, but close – it’s fun to employ a sense of irony. I may look like Jackie OK-Mart, but I’m listening to London Calling in the car. These Arms are Snakes is another perfect soundtrack to business attire – its loud, metallic volume rings anthemically over bleeping PDAs and dreadful workday anticipation, but its core drive of melody is easily relatable, even a little refined.

The static of interstellar contact begins the album, making cautious, inquisitive steps at first. Then, as one may have guessed, the pace turns to militant and hostile – no time to investigate, there’s a war going on. "Angela’s Secret" and "Big News" capitalize on this gripping vertigo of sorts; the two tracks highlight the very essence of the band – a visceral, snarling exterior and melodious, complex center. "Angela’s Secret" harbors drums like a scratched turntable, with climbing guitars, bobbing bass lines and a tense vocal call. At once, it becomes greater than its formidable parts as it moves, in high energy, to "Big News," a track that gives Fugazi and Decahedron a run for their money. Its expansive punk and syncopated, notched playing serves as a rallying cry to the album, drawing everyone in listening range closer, without a choice otherwise.

These Arms Are Snakes have a knack for head-scratching accessibility, and this shines ever brighter as the album goes on. Case in point, "Your Pearly Whites" strikes a foreboding change of mood, rumbling and rough. The track is at odds with itself – an easy melody shakes through its threatening tone – but that makes it all the more intriguing.

The only notable downfall of Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home is that it tends to be overlong. As their much-lauded EP symbolized a decisive knockout, this full length goes on for a few too many rounds. Their epic, "Gadget Arms," is an example of this: the track replicates the gory exposure of a freshly torn skeleton, a howling wind bracing through the still-bloodied bones. While this is quite a frightening image, and should recapture its audience at any length, its churning pace becomes a bit repetitive; there is a temptation to slip away. It is a bit of a shame that after a few minutes of this terrifying feeling, there is an ease of forwarding through the rest of the epic – images and feelings such as these should not become mundane, and yet they do in expanded time. Oxeneers, while filled with captivating moments and melodies, does linger some; it does not overstay its welcome, per se, but ultimately exhausts its already breathless captives.

Still, it is hard to deny the frenetic, punctuated favorite, "Greetings from the Great North Woods," or the false victory of "Darlings of New Midnight" that realizes great power corrupting at its own hand. Abrasive, harsh, pulse shaking, and above all, relatable, Oxeneers fades in return. "Oxeneer, Idaho" comes full circle with its curious opener as a supernatural, paranoid oddity where the travelers in question can never be safe. I can think of no more fitting way to end the album. When These Arms Are Snakes is the band telling the story, a troupe must stay quick on their feet, even when they think the worst is over?°¦ And, as we have come to know in short and fearful form, this is when the band is at their best.

Lost At Sea

Sarah Peters