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January 24, 2005

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People normally equate the pipe organ to one of three things: The noise heard between drunken innings at a baseball game, the soundtrack to an old Vincent Price horror film, or the ominous echo from a church steeple. With the release of their new album off Jade Tree Records, These Arms are Snakes have now given us a forth; alternative rock.

Exploiting the full potential of keyboard harmonics is only part of what this Seattle based group does to draw attention from its loyal onslaught of fans. Touring endlessly from coast-to-coast, lead singer Steve Snere pushes vocals through electric guitars and electronica soundscapes, influencing a new generation of beat lovers.

With the help of band members Ryan Frederiksen and Brian Cook, these west coast vagabonds jam out songs of economic hardship and pure sexuality mixed with Phish and Mars Volta-type breakdowns. And not to forget drummer Erin Tate whose concentrated rhythms shake you to the bone. He keeps time through the album; his fast moving sticks intensify the reality of each chorus.

They are the counterparts who, along with their chemical compounds of musical sounds, make up the formula for the 2004 release, "Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home."

The title is a perfect metaphor for the themes of white-collar vs. blue-collar ideals featured in these lyrics. The first track "The Shit Sisters," is a nightmarish lullaby to the children of the upper class: "Ride on your $100,000 horse?°¦401k plans, NASDAQ, assurance and insurance. Please let your children sleep tonight, spoon fed quarters till they backed up his throat."

Striking, artistic photography adorns the booklet pages, giving visuals to match the meaning of the albums lyrics.

For "Angela's Secret," the picture is reminiscent of classic paintings that feature The Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus; we see a woman embracing her child as she stands starring out the window of her messy, middle class kitchen. The struggle and self-sacrifice of a modern American single mom is told in, "Angela's Secret."

Her story is preached as a sermon with screams and that unmistakable organ coming up from behind: "She said to me?°¦'when I eat it's with my kids, and if I dance, it's when they're asleep. When I shop, it's not for me and neither is when I breathe.'"

These Arms are Snakes reverberate hardcore through their music. Powerful manipulation of their instruments accompany Snere's singing, setting him apart from the usual screaming of the genre's fellow groups. This allows you to actually understand his lyrics first time around.

Each song transfers into another, several tracks meld together connecting topics and resurrecting rhythms from the previous songs. However, there is enough change to tell every piece apart.

Aside from lamenting on economic themes, the boys add what could only be referred to as a hardcore ballot with the track "Gadget Arms."

Electric guitars and a slow, fading-in drumbeat to start off an eight-minute instrumental containing the single chorus: "Breathe on me. Never spit your last tooth and never shy away from my light. I finally believe I've got a home."

The photo for "Gadget Arms" features a man with a grocery bag riding the elevator; presumably back to his apartment—perhaps he is returning to the literal interpretation of "home" spoken of in the song.

The final track, "Idaho" comes creeping in with that horror movie church pipe organ. It transforms into demonic carnival music with vocalist Snere singing the anthem of the workingman's hell: "Give me my pay, so I pay my bills?°¦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."

This record is the perfect combination of sight, sound and speech, brought together by a group who could easily break into the mainstream, but will hopefully remain on its outskirts.

Currently kicking off a west coast tour, it won't be long before more is heard of These Arms are Snakes. They've already garnered press on both ends of the spectrum from The Seattle Weekly to Blender magazine and the BBC. Not bad for the sophomore release of a band who have only been jamming since 2003.

Equal Music

Eric M Hoover