These Arms Are Snakes // Duct Tape & Shivering Crows // Album Review

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These Arms Are Snakes are post-punk royalty, thoroughbreds with an unmatched pedigree. Comprised of members that made up some of the most seminal underground American rock bands; vocalist Steve Snere was in Kill Sadie, bassist Brian Cook was in Botch, guitarist Ryan Frederiksen was in Nineironspitfire and drummer Chris Common had worked on and played the percussion on the Minus the Bear record Menos El Oso. That was all before they formed These Arms Are Snakes, their output following the band’s dissolution in 2009 maintained their royalty status; Narrows, Russian Circles, Dust Moth, Sumac to name a few. In the time These Arms Are Snakes were a band between 2002 and 2009 they recorded 3 studio records, toured relentlessly (I was lucky enough to catch them in Belfast) and contributed to a number of splits.

It is the songs from the splits, B-sides and covers that make up Duct Tape and Shivering Crows. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are lesser tracks or throwaways, they maintain and deliver the sonic debauchery you come to expect from These Arms Are Snakes. Although what can you expect from TAAS, they are a band of true originals, a band who tore up the rule book spat on it, pissed on it, doused it in gasoline and laughed as it burned to a cinder in front of them. Then they probably turned to their instruments behind them and wrote ‘Meet Your Mayor’ and it’s here that is our entry point to Duct Tape and Shivering Crows. It opens with a primal scream and a simple but punchy riff, ‘There’s a mattress in the back of the house’. It’s instantly unnerving and drips in nervy, twitchy paranoia. The compilation moves back through time meaning that ‘Meet Your Major’ was the last material TAAS recorded. ‘Camera Shy’ is up next and you can check out the new visualizer video released to promote the release. The bass sound that opens the track sounds almost robotic, the rhythm section lock-in and you can’t help but nod along. For all their noise and effects there’s a lot of melody in TAAS and Ryan Frederiksen’s guitar adds that pretty melody with an almost shoegaze feel to the sound. ‘Trix’ is a pulled back tense track, it creeps along lulling you into false security until it breaks ‘Outside, making a promise that will not return’. It moves and turns, it evolves, it builds and changes. Both these tracks were originally on the Russian Circles split.

‘Energy Drink and the Long Walk Home’ is the first of two covers, originally a Lost Sounds song it’s a pretty faithful cover but TAAS take it to make it sound massive, with its mix of synths and punk rock guitar it’s a perfect song to cover for TAAS. It sounds like Murder City Devils trying to murder the Misfits. This is followed by ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, I’m going to guess you know who that’s by. If possible TAAS have made it even darker, broodier, nastier and noisier. I think it’s always a brave move to take on a Nirvana cover, play it safe and do it the same way and it’s kinda dull, take a risk and try and put your own stamp on it and you’re flirting with sacrilege. Somehow, TAAS manage to do both at once. The hook ‘Hey! Wait!’ is transformed by Frederiksen hammering those notes out on the whammy pedal. The bass in the verses sounds like my head is right beside the Ampeg speakers and Steve Snere is out in the hall recording his vocals barely audible. It’s fantastic.

‘Washburn’ tears out of the speakers after the broodiness of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and it could easily have been on any of their full-lengths. The rhythmic changes that happen through the song mean you can’t but move and sway along. Chris Common’s drums are non-stop on this track, with fills and subtle accents, the man is a beast on drums. His style differs greatly from the original drummer, Erin Tate. Common seemed to drive the band in a different way. I think both drummers brought something unique to TAAS. ‘Old Paradise’ lurches forward punctuated by Frederiksen’s use of the whammy, something that became part of his signature sound. It’s angular and nasty, it pulls you up by the collar to scream in your face and throws you face down in the dirt after. A perfect example of how TAAS aren’t afraid to take to the song to every possible corner and explore every idea. The riff in the middle 8 is a flurry of notes and effects and the interplay between the guitar and bass in this part is blinding.

‘Hook on This’ reprises the line ‘you’re a drug addict, you’re a sex addict, you’ve fucked all your friends, you’re fucking all your friends. That alone is enough reason to listen to the song. Sang by someone else in another band and that line could be atrocious, here I can’t tell if it’s an intervention or a moment of confrontation with yourself in the mirror. Either way, it makes for vital listening along with the post-hardcore angular abrasive riffing and sounds on the track it’s one of the more outright vicious sounding tracks on the album.

The next 4 tracks on the album are demos of their EP ‘This is Meant to Hurt You’. I love hearing demos of tracks from bands, hearing the inception of the songs, how they morph and change and what the studio brought to the tracks. These are great for that very reason. It sounds like by the time the demos were recorded the band had already locked in sounds, arrangements and lyrics as they’re pretty faithful to the studio versions but certainly a worthwhile inclusion.

In the first track ‘Meet Your Mayor’ Steve Snere uses the word provocateurs and I think that word best describes These Arms Are Snakes as a band. They challenge you, they provoke a reaction in the listener, you move and sway to them, and you find your own catharsis in their words and music. They beckon you to come closer, a few more steps and then they have you.

Despite being a compilation of B-sides, splits and covers the album still feels cohesive. Now the band are back touring and off the back of this release, we can only hope for new material. They never really seemed to get their due on their first time around so hopefully, now the time has passed and people have come to realise how special this band were and what a unique prospect, sound and vision they brought this, they’ll finally get theirs.

Watermelon bubbalicious.

 

Review: Michael Smyth

 

 Duct Tape & Shivering Crows Is Released April 15th via Suicide Squeeze

 

Look for Duct Tape & Shivering Crows to be available on CD, cassette, digital formats, and 2xLP on April 15th and stay tuned for more news and music coming soon.

Duct Tape & Shivering Crows track listing:

  1. Meet Your Mayor
  2. Camera Shy
  3. Trix
  4. Energy Drink and the Long Walk Home
  5. Heart Shaped Box
  6. Washburn
  7. Old Paradise
  8. Payday Loans
  9. Hook on This
  10. Riding the Grape Dragon (Demo)
  11. Run It Through the Dog (Demo)
  12. Diggers of Ditches Everywhere (Demo)
  13. The Blue Rose (Demo)

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES, VISIT:

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These Arms Are Snakes // Duct Tape & Shivering Crows // Album Review
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