THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES
"Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home"
Engine Down's self-titled new album seems to be a transitional work, and the switch is thrown most conspicuously during "In Turn." The song opens with gentle guitar and yearning vocals, accented by cello. Two minutes later, the rhythm section slams in while singer Keeley Davis sings, "It builds, it builds, it builds." As the song concludes, raw-throated screams join the arrangement, but buried discreetly in the mix.
Those bellows are the remnants of the Richmond quartet's caustic previous sound, which has largely been supplanted by a cleaner but no less dramatic style. With its shifting arrangements and powerful crescendos, "Engine Down" sounds like a less funky Fugazi, albeit with prettier, more arena-rocking choruses. That's not exactly an unfamiliar recipe these days, but the band executes it well; such songs as "Rogue" and "Too Much of a Good Thing" are lithe, dynamic and just a little bit pop. "Screamo" purists may blanch, but most people will find the tidied-up new Engine Down much less cringe-worthy.
In addition to having a taste for more verbose titles, These Arms Are Snakes prefers a rougher-edged form of post-hardcore. Some of the abrasiveness comes from Steve Snere's vocals, but this Seattle quartet also incorporates grating electronica into its sound. The band's "Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home" embellishes its thrusting rockers with synth bits, including the sort of broken-beat outbursts known to devotees as "glitch."
There's Fugazi influence here, too, of course, notably in such bristling tunes as "Big News" and "La Stanza Bianca." Prog-rock indulgences sometimes slow These Arms' attack, but the group usually recovers with an invigorating snarl.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Thursday at the Black Cat with the Husbands. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Engine Down, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8110; to hear These Arms Are Snakes, press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)