Few bands plunge deeper into pits of darkness than Fountain Valley art-rock trio the Fire Ants. Their previous recordings, such as last year's Imaginary Friend and 1998's Coping Mechanism, offered noisy, tension-filled trips into fragile worlds of isolation, betrayal and sexual ambiguity—heavy stuff, with its precise-yet-jarring shifts in tempo and lead singer/lyricist/poet/bassist Skie Bender's screeching wails combining to hit you like an unexpected slap to the face. But with its new EP, Human Windchime, the band (which also features guitarist Kevin Jacobs and drummer Kelly Busby) travels down a different (and welcome) avenue, where acoustic guitars, hand-held percussion and snare drums form a less aggressive sonic core. In fact, the raw, folksy guitar strumming that opens the lead track, "Mudslide," wouldn't sound out of place on an old Woody Guthrie song. A surprisingly warm intimacy also emerges to supplant the band's heretofore chilly, melancholic vibe. Still, private hells, grave diggers, voodoo girls, slit throats and creepy shadows abound, all crucial players in such foreboding, unsettling numbers as "Blood Canoe" and "Last Breath." Only in "Lazy I" does Bender cut loose with one of her blood-curdling screams, declaring in the final verse, "I'M . . . NOT . . . YOU!" Predominantly softer but no less spooky overall, Human Windchime advocates facing our fears in order to have any chance of exorcising them: "Life is too short," they sing on "Expiration Date," "to kill yourself."