THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES
Were the men of These Arms Are Snakes passionate Biology 101 students, showing up with unchecked enthusiasm at the prospect of dissecting frogs and fetal pigs? Or did the Seattle quartet play the conscientious-objector card, bringing a note from home asking to be excused from such barbaric exercises? Listening to Easter, one imagines their sentiments vacillated between the two extremes. Fascinated, yet a bit repulsed and tormented by guilt. Regardless, an impression remains. Images and language of the body permeate their second album, in song titles ("Perpetual Bris," "Corporeal") and throughout the visceral lyrics: Mouths ooze tar and ears spew exhaust fumes, digits rend fleshy epidermis to reveal concealed scales.
Musically, the 12 tracks howl like a maelstrom, full of surging guitars and raging vocals; if singer Steve Snere isn't careful, they may have to sandblast nodules off his vocal cords someday. But upon closer inspection, the album's complex layers give up mysteries and reveal curious internal systems. Rapid lyrics and percussion flicker over slow moving guitars ("Subtle Body"), crazy electronic washes introduce bass riffs as heavy as any Sabbath jam ("Mescaline Eyes"). And there are judicious surprises, too: The gale force of "Lady North" makes space for a classic-rock-worthy guitar hook and pillowy vocal harmonies; sudden pauses in "Abracadabraca" only augment its mounting momentum. Yet for all its intricacies, Easter possesses such a raw force that it rarely feels like an exercise in so-called math rock. Though passionate about experimentation, These Arms Are Snakes are artists, not scientists. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Last month, London Sinfonietta released a double disc celebrating the masters of 20th-century composition, including Ligeti, Stockhausen, Cage, and some orchestral arrangements of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher tracks, officially moving the IDM pioneers into the annals of music history. On Hello Everything, Squarepusher (AKA Tom Jenkinson) doesn't indulge his esoteric side, but rather releases his most lighthearted, festive album yet, focusing on melody rather than texture, and groove rather than complexity.
On Hello Everything, his 10th album in 10 years, Jenkinson celebrates his accomplishments by running wildly through every genre he's ever touched—ambient, dance, funk, acid jazz, and two-step, to name a few. The disc's diverse to the point of disorder, but it keeps one common theme on every track: virtuosity. Since the early days of Feed Me Weird Things, Squarepusher built his name on lightning-fast bass playing and explosive programming, and in recent years he's added vibraphones, acid-jazz guitar, and live drums. Every now and then he takes things too far, veering off into self-indulgent jazz-funk noodling ("Theme from Sprite"), but most of the time, it's exciting to see something like Muzak-style Spanish guitar juxtaposed with free-jazz drums ("Circlewave 2"). Other tracks, like "Rotate Electrolyte," return to Squarepusher's staple vocabulary of handclaps and beats, but like everything else about this album, it's more fun than before, with big juicy synths singing through the indulgent melodies of disco. While not as innovative as his past work, Hello Everything showcases a few nice additions to Squarepusher's ever-growing collection of talents. ROSS SIMONINI
BOBBY BARE JR.'S YOUNG CRIMINALS' STARVATION LEAGUE
The Longest Meow
Children of artists attempting to follow in their parents' footsteps typically either shrink in the shadows, unable to rise beyond the pressures of their pedigree, or falsely flourish thanks to doors opened to them based solely on genetics. But then there are the rare musicians whose talents take them to a level of accomplishment that renders moot the familial comparisons. Since his audacious, rollicking 1998 debut, the son of country maverick Bobby Bare has consistently made records that should make his father proud.
The Longest Meow is his finest effort yet, the sort of classic collection of songs that will sound fresh decades from now—which is even more remarkable when you consider the circumstances of its production. All 11 tracks were captured in a mere 11 hours, with the help of producer Brad Jones and several multitalented musicians. My Morning Jacket's Carl Broemel and Patrick Hallahan handle guitar and drums, respectively, while MMJ vocalist Jim James lent his distinct, mournful vocals to a couple of tracks (as well as providing the bright sprinkling of harmonica on "Sticky Chemical"). ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Doni Schroader helps out with keys and percussion throughout, and members from Lambchop and Clem Snide also chime in.
A sparkling supporting cast and an impressively tight timeline are mere novelty without good material, and Bare's never been a slouch as a songwriter. Whether he's stomping through the horn-driven rave-up of "Bionic Beginning," singing in a tone that sounds equally anguished and euphoric on "Uh Wuh Oh," or waltzing through the calypso-flavored "Sticky Chemical," the kid is at the top of his game and has eliminated any speculation about whether he can fill Papa Bare's shoes. HANNAH LEVIN
Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals' Starvation League play Sat Oct 14 at Neumo's, 8 pm, $12 adv/$20 DOS, 21+.
Harmony in Ultraviolet
Canadian sound artist Tim Hecker recorded part of this album in Banff, Alberta, a note of trivia that gives context to this work. Banff is the town nearest Lake Louise, possibly North America's most spectacular landlocked body of water, overlooked on its sides by gigantic snow- or evergreen-dotted mountains. Standing on the road surrounding Louise puts you on the same plane as the mountains' bases, and the vista can leave you transfixed. The lake sort of sits as a field between objects of colossal sizes. That picture is exactly how Harmony in Ultraviolet sounds, with the notable difference that the lake happens to be on fire.
Hecker says this album "can be viewed as a work of total destruction," but it feels more like a structured study of remote melody, with benevolent ghosts dropping by. There's a gentle radio buzz grounding most of it, softened by an ambient wash of relatively normal, very tonal chords. Patience with Hecker's setup pays off in down-the-center moments of controlled guitar feedback that feed the flames, yet are contained so as not to overrun the environment. The album's best—and longest—track is "Whitecaps of White Noise," where jolts of organ stab against the most pronounced guitar lines on the album. Hecker's achievement is a careful consideration of a duality where nature and artifice might not be best of friends, but they've agreed to coexist and occasionally swap notes. That's a lot like normal life, unless you're lucky enough to live in Banff. PAUL PEARSON
Even though every new generation of listeners recognizes Jeremy Enigk as the honey-voiced prodigy whose old band Sunny Day Real Estate accidentally invented '90s emo, Enigk has done his most fully realized work outside of SDRE's shadow. Frustratingly, it's taken the reclusive singer-songwriter 10 years to follow up said work—the 1996 orchestral-pop masterpiece Return of the Frog Queen—with this, his second solo album. But for the fans who've stuck around, the wait will be worth it.
World Waits, incidentally, isn't a self-referential title, but it could be. From SDRE to its short-lived offshoot, the Fire Theft, to this album, every Enigk project brings with it a surge of anticipation—not only from fans, but from a music industry built around quarterly profits and timely release schedules. No wonder, then, that the notoriously tortoise-paced Enigk had to start his own label, Lewis Hollow, to release World Waits when he was ready.
Consisting of two songs written for Frog Queen's follow-up, and rounded out by similarly expansive, acoustic-guitar-based epics and a number of circular, atmospheric tracks that recall both psychedelic-era Beatles and later-period SDRE, World Waits summarizes the best aspects of Enigk's songwriting. Though written for guitar, bass, drums, and vocals (and, man, what vocals), the songs are infinitely detailed, with minimal nuances (keyboards, strings, layered vocals) coloring the same space Frog Queen used a 21-piece orchestra to fill. It's not seamless (see the Billy Idol–influenced '80s synth-rock dud "City Tonight"), but for an album that's taken a decade to come together, it's more cohesive than it should be. AARON BURGESS
POLAR GOLDIE CATS
You'll forgive me if I spent most of the '90s mistaking the Polar Goldie Cats for the Climax Golden Twins. Or is it the other way around? Either way, the Cats had the black-cat luck to land on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace! imprint between its two dalliances with the major leaguers, meaning PGC aren't going to be the next coming of Be Your Own Pet (never mind they may well be three times older than said group).
Feral Phantasms, the shadowy group's newest, comes five years after their last album, Polar Night Stress. No doubt PGC's return to the studio was roused by an invitation to play the Slint-curated All Tomorrow's Parties. You can hear how those Kentuckians would be fans, in that PGC ply instrumentals not unlike Spiderland's "For Dinner...," the drawback being that it's not offset by more tempestuous outbursts and climaxes. Opener "Beast of Exmoor" sounds like they may have all turned into cat ladies (or perhaps decided on a new soundtrack to Cats), as the track is composed solely of sickly mewls, as if the dead kitty from Re-Animator were mating with the deceased one from Pet Sematary (the accompanying booklet encourages such feline imagery overkill). That gives way to the band's indistinguishable instrumental detunings, with the noir haze of "Maoist" suggesting a scrapped EVOL-era jam, while the martial snare keeps "AF Otter" from getting downright skin crawling. Only on the epic title track does Phantasms reach any peak, moving from synthesized swooshes to a metallic sort of finale. ANDY BETA