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These Arms Are Snakes bites a piece out of Iowa City nightlife

BY BRIAN DAU | FEBRUARY 25, 2009 7:39 AM

mp3 sample: These Arms Are Snakes

"Red Line Season"

When I spoke with bassist Brian Cook of Seattle’s These Arms Are Snakes, the rest of the band was in the middle of a sound check at the first stop on the group’s current national tour. As such, nearly everything he said was randomly punctuated at some point with the booming reverberation of a stray guitar chord, temporarily drowning out all communication.

The interruptions actually felt pretty appropriate, considering the band’s high-energy, anything-goes music, a sound based in punk and metal but often diverging toward something more experimental.

“I’m always worried about falling into some sort of rut or playing things out of habit instead of being excited and feeling like you’re discovering something new,” Cook said.

These Arms Are Snakes will play at 9 p.m. today with Darker My Love, All The Saints, and Private Dancer at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St. Tickets are $8.

On “Red Line Season” from These Arms Are Snakes’ latest album, 2008’s Tail Swallower and Dove, the band members often interrupt the slow, deliberate guitar riff in the verse with staccato blasts of sound alongside vocalist Steve Snere’s piercing yells. The effect is as disorienting as the song’s music video, which features odd angles and oscillating camera effects, as well as background photos of things as disparate as Mount Rushmore and human skulls.

For These Arms Are Snakes, the two music videos it has done represent an opportunity once reserved only for pop-music and other, more mainstream acts.

“In the ’90s, the only reason to make [a music video] was to try to get on MTV,” Cook said. “I felt like bands were just flushing their money away. Now, you can make a cool art piece for next to nothing.”

Central to the band’s mix is drummer Chris Common, who drives the music forward with crashing cymbals and machine-gun fills in a way Cook described as “very assertive.” In a band where the music can frequently detour into uncharted sonic territory, a strong rhythm section is vital in keeping the sound rooted to something concrete.

“He always tries to make what he’s playing engaging on its own,” Cook said. “He makes the drums more than just a metronome, but a really expressive instrument.”

Cook believes the entire quartet embodies this playing style. The members of These Arms Are Snakes don’t have to be playing “anything complicated,” but they strive to make even the simplest sounds “interesting or engaging in some way.”

People are beginning to take notice. The band has released three albums since 2004, and it was recently signed to Suicide Squeeze Records, a “pretty well-respected” independent label, said Nathan Gould, the KRUI general manager.

“It has been getting consistent blog buzz, and it doesn’t seem like one of those one-hit wonder bands,” he said. “It’s one of those up-and-coming bands that will probably have a pretty big Iowa City following.”


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