Archive for These Arms are Snakes

Brian Cook: Things I Was Stoked on in 2012

Posted in News and Notes with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by Magadh

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I already did a list of my favorite records of 2012 for
SeattleRockGuy.com, but I felt like there were so many other inspiring
music-related things I stumbled upon this year that I needed an
alternate list. These are the things I was stoked on in 2012.

1. Genesis The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

A sound engineer friend of mine used this album to EQ the soundboard
at a gig back in 2006 and it boggled my mind. The recording quality
definitely pinned it to the ‘70s, but the sounds, arrangements, and
general vibe didn’t seem to belong to any era. I was stunned to learn
it was Genesis, and my friend subsequently burned me a copy of the
two-disc album. I gave it a couple of spins on my own at home, but
what I heard on my speakers didn’t live up to the tracks I’d heard at
the club. This spring, I gave it another whirl on my iPod. For
whatever reason, the tracks were out of sequence, and all of the
sudden I was hearing the stuff that caught my ear back in 2006. I
became obsessed with this album. From the heavy gloom of “Fly On The
Windshield” to the math-prog of “Back In NYC”, the whole album is a
total artistic gamble that only pays off after repeated listens. For
the entirety of summer and most of the fall, I was listening to this
album at least once a day. Ideally, I wish that every year one record
would permanently alter my relationship with music. Realistically,
that only really happens about once every five years for me. The last
record to hit me this hard was Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement
of the Decline back in 2008. I have a feeling it’s going to be another
five years until something affects me as much as Lamb.

2. Bob Mould See A Little Light

I’ve owned Zen Arcade since I was 14. I’ve owned Copper Blue since I
was 15. But I never really dug much further into either band’s
catalog. So I’m not sure why I picked up Bob Mould’s autobiography
earlier this year, but once I cracked it open I couldn’t put it down.
Mould’s story isn’t even all that spectacular. In some regards, he’s a
difficult person to empathize with at times. But I saw bits and pieces
of myself in his story and started examining those old records more. I
realized that over 21 years, I’ve actually come to be pretty familiar
with all 70 minutes of Zen Arcade, and coming back to it after so much
time away from it made me view it in a whole new light. I also went
and picked up the Sugar vinyl reissues and realized what I’d been
missing out on from Beaster and FU:EL. I probably should’ve picked up
the new Bob Mould album too, but I’ll save that for next year.

3.  Chelsea Wolfe

I was fortunate enough to get to see  Chelsea perform nightly for three
weeks straight this summer when she toured with Russian Circles. As
much as I like Apokalypsis and The Grime And The Glow, neither album
does her live show justice. Harrowing, haunting, beautiful. And
judging from her new material, 2013 is going to be Chelsea’s year.


4. Minus The Bear @ The Showbox

I moved from Tacoma to Seattle in January of 2001. Later that year, my
friends started a band called Minus The Bear. It seemed like a
frivolous project at the time. After all, these were dudes from
hardcore bands playing this upbeat dancey indie pop stuff. But it
turned into a big deal, and this light-hearted side project cranked
out some serious game-changing albums. In many ways Minus The Bear
became my soundtrack to the ‘00s and, by extension, my time in
Seattle. I’m heading for the East Coast in a couple of weeks, and I’m
glad that I got to catch one last Bear show back in November as a bit
of closure for the moving away process.

5.  Against Me! @ El Corazon

These Arms Are Snakes did our first “tour” with Against Me! back in
early 2003. We went out with them again in 2007. A lot had changed for
AM! in those four years. It seemed that with every new record they
gained momentum while simultaneously receiving more and more shit from
their more stringent DIY fanbase. Things have only gotten more
polarized in the last five years, with the band signing to a major
label, playing with Springsteen and Foo Fighters, and prompting every
newbie crust punk to cry out “Judas”. So when singer Tom Gabel came
out as transgendered, I couldn’t help but wonder how the public would
react. Their first tour in the wake of the news was with The Cult. In
a text message conversation with their bassist Andrew, I asked how the
public was dealing with Tom’s new identity as Laura Jane Grace. His
response was that he had a renewed faith in humanity. And sure enough,
catching their set at El Corazon in September was one of the most
inspiring things I’ve witnessed in a long while. The audience was a
healthy mix of people—young punks, older rock fans, and a new
contingent of LGBT folks. The crowd launched into applause when Laura
took the stage and the band played the most impassioned show I’ve ever
seen from them. My faith was restored that night too.

– Brian Cook

I’ve Been Called A Sinner: Brian Cook Muses on Time Spent With Daughters

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2012 by Magadh

[When Brian Cook offered us the chance to publish his musings on time spent on tour with Daughters (RIP) we jumped at the chance.  Cook is a real talent and it is our great pleasure to share this with you.]

In the summer of 2008, my band toured with the now-defunct noise-punk band Daughters. I had been a fan of the band since their first 7”, and my previous band had played a handful of shows with them over the years. I remember playing a show with them in Tokyo and winding up at a tiny bar in Shibuya at 4am, talking with their drummer Jon about the failings of modern punk music. “There’s no danger anymore. No one can do what The Stooges did or what Black Flag did in their time.” I understood his sentiment, though it seemed to me that Daughters were doing a pretty good job at capturing that kind of intensity. On that summer tour, I got a much closer look at the band, both as a unit and as individuals. By the end of those five weeks, I was convinced that Daughters were no ordinary run-of-the-mill empty-gesture arty hardcore band. They were legitimately fucked. They were good people—pleasant to be around, entertaining, humorous. But they were still damaged—angry, dysfunctional, perpetually plagued by bad luck. There was a book’s worth of stories just from that one tour. Talking about the band in the months after the tour, it seemed that everyone I knew who’d interacted with Daughters had their own tales of depravity and chaos. The idea of Daughters biography seemed more and more viable.

When Bloomsbury announced that they were taking pitches for new books in their 33 1/3 series, I saw an opportunity to tell Daughters’ story. I knew my chances of getting the green light on my proposal were virtually non-existent, but I figured it was worth a shot. I sent in the required proposal materials, including a 2000-word introductory chapter. Bloomsbury wound up receiving nearly 500 submissions. Mine didn’t make the cut. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to finishing the project and finding another avenue to publish it. In the time being, I figured I would put the introductory chapter online as a testament to an amazing band. Enjoy.

A draft introduction/opening chapter for the book, of around 2,000 words

Chapter 1: Daughters Spelled Wrong

“Yeah, I’ve been called a sinner…”

And so begins Daughter’s 2006 sophomore album Hell Songs–with a declaration of degradation. Vocalist Alexis S.F. Marshall, or Lex for short, wears the insult proudly, announcing it with the kind of defiant pride of Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter. And then a cascade of noise descends upon the final syllable. The song, “Daughters Spelled Wrong”, is one minute and 42 seconds of Lex’s self-flagellations delivered in a slurred Southern Baptist preacher’s drawl. In that short parcel of cacophony, Lex lists off every slanderous label he’s endured.

“…wrong-doer, evil-doer…”

As the front man for Daughters, Lex was the human element to the band. And while his performance on Hell Songs was unnerving enough in its own right, his tirades become exponentially more menacing live. With his stringy hair running down to his lower back, his tall and gangly frame, a wiry handle-bar mustache, hopelessly tattered black pants (apparently the only pair he owned), and an ill-fitting stained white dress shirt, he gave off an aura of someone who didn’t give a fuck about the pageantry of rock music. He wasn’t even fashionably unfashionable. Grooming, hygiene, and composure were neglected. He looked disheveled, poverty-stricken, strung out. Most Daughters sets found Lex in less attire, usually just a pair of briefs. Far from the industry-standard display of muscle and machismo seen in chiseled frontmen like Henry Rollins, Anthony Kiedis, and Chris Cornell, there was nothing erotic about near-nude Lex. Sexual? Certainly, but only in the most degrading, animalistic sense of the word. Lex’s stage presence only served to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible. He would claw red lines into his belly, cram his entire fist into his mouth, fellate the microphone, and drool on himself while fondling his genitals. In moments where audience members chose to interact with him on stage, the results were equally filthy. People vied for his phlegm. Women pulled at his briefs. Fans fondled and licked his exposed cock. A confessed “sex addict”, Lex would swap spit with both men and women mid-set and fuck fans in venue bathrooms. His tally of sexual conquests was startling, given his anti-social behavior. Claiming a bad acid trip as the root of his social anxiety, Lex was nearly bipolar in his daily interactions. He was relatively friendly and talkative one moment, withdrawn and angry the next. A ninth-grade drop out and former homeless teenager, his bleak world-view was legitimate.

“…worker of iniquities…”

There’s no verse. No chorus. No rhyming scheme. No melody. It’s just one musical phrase repeating for the entire duration of the song. The instrumental accompaniment sounds like a broken machine filtered through the ears of someone simultaneously shuddering through a panic attack and immersed in vertigo. The sound underneath Lex’s litany is a study in all things wrong and counter-intuitive. The band–comprised of entirely capable and talented players—sounds like they’re deliberately unlearning their instruments. Cymbals crash without a kick drum to punctuate them. The bass guitar dives and climbs with little regard for actual notes. One guitar avoids the lower octaves completely and opts instead for atonal high-end screeching and skronky discord. The other guitar remains stuck on one warbled, seasick riff through the whole song, sounding off-balance and broken even when the whole band locks in around it. It’s confounding, ugly music.

“…transgressor, bad example, scoundrel, villain, knave…”

The annals of rock music have no shortage of bands showcasing the darker side of human nature. Ever since Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, ever since Jerry Lee Lewis set his piano on fire, ever since Iggy Pop rolled in broken glass, there has existed a certain sector of the rock community dedicated to exorcising it’s demons on stage. It’s the reason that concerned parents and church groups still argue that rock music is evil. This flagrant display of bad behavior, self-destruction, and reckless abandon is at the very root of rock music. And perpetuating rock’s legacy of danger requires raising the bar of rebellion. As rock music nears the age of retirement, it’s old tricks no longer impress young audiences. Chuck Berry and Little Richard carry none of the threat they did in their heyday. Black Sabbath, who’s very name suggested black mass and the occult, now seems downright Christian in comparison to the blasphemous content of black metal bands like Gorgoroth. So prevalent is the anti-social contingent of music in today’s market that it’s hardly noteworthy for a band to parade its malice for an audience. The harder edged realms of rock music–metal and punk, for example–depend on that kind of antagonism. Daughters looked for one of those last few buttons to push, one of those last few taboos to break, one the last few ways to make people cringe. Perry Farrell noted well over two decades ago “nothing’s shocking.” Daughters challenged that statement.

“…miscreant, viper, wretch, the devil incarnate…”

It takes a certain brand of individuals to make nihilism translate into music, and it requires their contempt to be believable. Words like “genuine”, “sincerity”, and “honesty” get thrown around by critics and fans as signifiers of good music. How do those qualities apply to antagonistic musicians? Do the artists have to be genuinely miserable people to make convincingly ugly music? The artists who are typically the most successful at this kind of dark art manage to convey that wrath and misery in both content and form. It’s not just a matter of singing about the pasty underbelly of the human psyche or throwing a few skulls on an album cover; it’s about the thoroughness of pessimism. It’s about creating a genuine sense of danger. And it requires a misanthropic honesty that carries itself both on and off-stage. It used to be that the image set forth by an artist on stage and on record comprised nearly the entire public perception of said artist. In the age of the internet, this is no longer the case. Even more so for a band of Daughter’s stature–a band that rarely had a backstage to slink off to, a band that still had to unload their own gear off stage, a band that still had to run back to the merch booth after their set to sling t-shirts for gas money, a band with no place to hide and sustain a fabricated mystique.

“…monster, demon, fallen angel, murderer, and thief…”

The Catch-22 is that being in a successful band–a band that can write music together, play shows, tour, record, maybe even make a little money—requires unity, solidarity, positivity, compromise, and sociability. In other words, a band that’s genuinely driven by angst and hostility is doomed for failure. Proof of the unsustainable nature of these kinds of acts is most evident in the dearth of popular nihilistic bands. Even the somewhat well-known misery peddlers tend to be tragically stunted. Notorious shock rock icon GG Allin made a career out of anti-social behavior and bilious lyrical themes. He was known to take the stage naked, ready to fight the audience and fling his feces at the crowd. He wrote songs with titles like “I Want To Rape You” and “Fuckin’ The Dog”. He famously promised to kill himself on stage, which would have been the ultimate display of the self-destructive nature of negative music, but a heroin overdose beat him to it. Glen Benton, the vocalist and bassist for seminal death metal band Deicide similarly promised to off himself at the age of 33 as a mockery of Jesus Christ’s year of death. Benton failed to live up to his word. And while he will always be remembered for the controversy he created in his early career by branding an inverted cross into his forehead and advocating animal sacrifice, he tempered out in his later years when he became a family man with a wife and kids. Not surprisingly, the quality of Deicide’s albums declined, as did their album sales. Allin went to close to the edge and fell into the abyss. Benton mellowed out. Neither managed to sustain the malice of their classic records over a protracted career. Daughter’s brand of ugliness had none of Allin’s overt misogyny and violence, none of Deicide’s Christian-baiting Satanism. Instead, they specialized in a kind of implied depravity. Lex wouldn’t attack the venue patrons or shove objects up his ass, but he’d do everything else in his power to make the audience take a squeamish step back. Even though their album title references Hell, there was no trumpeting of a contrarian religion in their lyrics, no acknowledgement of moral consequence. Instead, Lex sang about emotional voids. It somehow made Lex scarier than GG or Glen. He seemed smarter. Colder. Less confrontational, but also less vested in cheap stunts and outlandish behavior for the sake of winning over anyone’s approval. He wasn’t interested in violence. He was interested in degrading himself on stage, forcing the audience into an unnerving kind of voyeurism.

“…lost sheep, black sheep, black guard, loafer, and sneak…”

Even the millionaire “bad boys of rock”—KISS, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue—aren’t exempt from the perilous balance of nihilism and authenticity. For one thing, these cultural giants never tread so far into the blackness that you feared them as people. Their worst crimes were their hedonistic appetites. They still came across as people that would be fun to party with. Marilyn Manson managed to up the ante of anti-social behavior in the ‘90s, but the controversy was calculated. Manson always knew how to articulate his more vitriolic statements in a calm, well-spoken, intellectual manner. It was obviously theater. Daughters didn’t come across as the life of the party. They didn’t come across as having any sort of deeper, thoughtful meaning to their art. They came across as genuinely bitter, crass, resentful individuals.

“…good-for-nothing ass-fucking son of a bitch.”

Daughters were a band that tried to find that balance between thorough, real ugliness and some kind of self-sustaining functionality. They wanted to be successful; they wanted to tour the world and make money. But they also wanted to make something truly hideous and uncomfortable. Their debut album, Canada Songs, was an 11-minute surge of hyper-paced noise-driven hardcore. Occupying the kind of punk/metal hybrid territory instigated by bands like The Locust and Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters found an immediate audience among fans of frenzied, technical music. It was well-received, but not entirely unconventional for that particular style. But Hell Songs was different. The band ditched their lightning-speed tempos, metal-steeped instrumentation, and shrieking, indecipherable vocals for disjointed mid-tempo lurches and Lex’s drunken oratory. They weeded their old material out of their performances. The fans felt betrayed. They had gone from sounding like the arty descendents of the powerviolence and grindcore scenes into a tightly wound meth-fed version of The Birthday Party. There was a much stronger adversarial vibe to their new approach. Their sound was less tethered to any particular scene. It alienated a fan base that was already built on embracing disenfranchisement and being at odds with everything.

But deservedly, the record found an audience, albeit a small one. For as caustic and abrasive of an album as it is, there’s a surprising catchiness to the material. The low end groans; the high end piercingly buzzes like a swarm of insects; the drums flit from spasms of hyperkinetic pulverizations to deconstructed thuds and clatter; and Lex moans and howls over all of it. Yet somehow, Hell Songs is rife with hooks. There was a discipline to what they did. It could’ve easily devolved into white noise, but there was always a clarity and separation to the instruments. They were a tight band. And for the three years that followed the release of Hell Songs before the group imploded, Daughters came about as close as any band can get to being a total train wreck without rattling apart at the seams. There was fighting, a rotating cast of guitar players, drugs, infidelities, van accidents, hospital trips, lost money, rivalries with tourmates, promoters pulling guns on the band, and tangles with the law. They were a fascinating, glorious mess, and they perfectly captured it over the course of ten songs.

“I’ve been called a sinner.”

– Brian Cook

The Wasted Years

Posted in Articles, News and Notes with tags , , , , on June 21, 2012 by Magadh

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A Thousand Trivialities is committed to supporting DIY culture in all of its facets. We are constantly amazed at the creativity of those embracing independent media to bypass the pig system. We celebrate the authentic voices from our culture and would like to introduce you to Aaron Semer.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Aaron for over 10 years and find him to be both insightful and quite witty. His current project is a blog and podcast called The Wasted Years.  The blog is well written and profiles an array of working musicians who play some variety of heavy music. In the podcast, independent musicians sit with Aaron for an hour and discuss tales of the road. Brian Cook (Botch, These Arms are Snakes, Roy and Russian Circles) is featured in the first installment. Brian’s tales are both hilarious and compelling but it is Aaron’s skill as an interviewer that makes the podcast flow so well.

We wholeheartedly recommend you check out The Wasted Years here.

– Captain of Games

Review: Narrows

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on May 27, 2012 by Magadh

Narrows Painted Deathwish

I have to admit that I kind of come to each Narrows record expecting to hear Botch. This is unfair. The only direct connection between the two acts is Dave Verellen, and while the vocalist does a lot to give a band its own peculiar feel, it is really the guitar (at least in most cases) that is decisive in terms of the sonic topography produced. In terms of heaviness and dissonant elements, Narrows guitarists Jodie Cox and Ryan Frederiksen play in a style that does bear some similarities to that of Dave Knudson. That the careful listener will never mistake the former for the latter should not be taken as a criticism. Listening to Botch, especially their live shows, had a vertigo inducing quality. Narrows can write some complex tunes, but they are the kind of band that it’s easier to bob your head to.

The first thing you’re going to notice about this record is that it’s a lot more straightforward in terms of tempos than previous Narrows releases. Narrows are sometimes classified as “math rock” or “math core.” One could debate the justice of those designations, but in any case this current release is likely to cost them their union cards in United Math Rockers Local 3.14159265 (if indeed they ever had them). All of which is not to say that the time changes and dissonance that characterized their previous releases have been completely abjured. On Painted, they have been harnessed to an attack that relies on pounding and bludgeoning the listener, rather than leaving them wondering what time signature it was all in. Fans of previous releases, and of Botch, will be pleased to note that one thing that hasn’t changed is Dave Verellen’s gut-wrenching vocal style. As on previous releases, he sounds like he is slicing chunks off of his soul with a butcher knife, his fearsome roaring lending an urgency to the proceedings which manages to retain some of the unsettling qualities of earlier Narrows discs.

“Under the Guillotine” opens the action with hammering riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on a High on Fire record. This sets the tone. While their music is often challenging in terms of presenting the listener with square progressions or comfortable melodies, their bread and butter is an uncompromising wall of sound. “Absolute Betrayer” reinforces this point with a series of jackhammer riffs over which dissonant notes float like a halo. “Greenland” starts off with three minutes of weird noise that sounds like it was recorded off Pinhead’s home stereo before mutating into a bombastic, slow burn. From there, matters return to the familiar, punishing furrow that had been plowed through the earlier parts of the disc.

There is a lot to like about this record, and its very existence is impressive given that the members don’t get to spend a lot of time together. What is also impressive is that they keep managing to come up with material that is fresh and compelling. If Painted is more straightforward than earlier Narrows releases, it is also the case that they have managed to harness what at times seemed like an anarchic fury into a focused aggression that demands repeated spins.

Magadh