...as some would have it, why don't all screamo bands sound as invigoratingly unhinged? Most acts in that particular musical (non)genre seem to me to be the usual hoarse-voiced angsty drivel, the usual sub-Nirvana moshpit dreck. The Blood Brothers on the other hand possess a sound no one else is even able to copy (doing so would be too much hard work), let alone surpass; something akin to...Queen for the Melt-Banana generation???
After '03's "Burn Piano Island, Burn" and '04's "Crimes", this is their third killer album in a row. Produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto (the 'Gazi's grating, gunmetal-grey guitar sound is notably present at times), it is, if anything, even more toward the end of its collective tether than the last two records. Johnny Whitney's uncontrollable shrieking is rivalled only by Converge's Jacob Bannon, especially on "Nausea Shreds Yr Head" and the frankly bonkers "You're The Dream Unicorn!", two of their most manic tunes yet. At the other end of the scale, "Laser Life" and the EXCELLENT "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds" are rhythmic riots and dancefloor fillers that could almost be Franz Ferdinand - if Franz Ferdinand possessed balls the size of Range Rovers and were hopped up on absinthe and amyl nitrate.
The lyrics are more overwrought than ever, pretentiously so at times (the closing "Giant Swan" is sunk under streams of over-excited verbiage), but capable of fabulously grotesque imagery - 'I saw crabs and lobsters eat a dead cop's throat', anyone?? - and of occasional profundity - the anti-Iraq war "Lift The Veil, Kiss The Tank" climaxes with the stark statement 'Death's just death, no matter how you dress it up'.
It adds up to a lyrical and musical portrait of a world almost suffocating under garish celebrity-based trivialities while the most godawful horrors take place right under our uninterested noses...if the words are overdone and tasteless, it is perhaps fitting; so are the distractions we concern ourselves with...
As ever, an acquired taste (like trying to eat vinegar-covered ice cream, as my friend put it), but one well worth persevering with. It's being talked about that this could even be the record that 'breaks' the band...here's hoping. This stuff is too damn good for the slanty-fringe brigade to keep all to themselves.
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There's nothing new in the notion of setting something on fire; it's often a cheap, easy bid for visceral power in a piece of art. Poetically and metaphorically it's also just as blunt - yes, something is being destroyed. So it's with a sense of déjà vu and disappointment that one would approach Set Fire to the Face on Fire, the first track on Young Machetes, The Blood Brothers' fifth studio album. Is it nonsense? Undoubtedly. It's also probably the most brutally simple bit of nonsense you've ever heard if you're not familiar with the band's back catalogue: their third album, ...Burn Piano Island, Burn (noticing a trend here?) was deemed in most quarters to be the hardcore album of this decade. In fact it's not Set Fire to the Face on Fire that's the rawest cut on here - that would be the ironic and humorously-titled You're the Dream Unicorn! which streamlines its messy verses into a shrieking chorus, vocals courtesy of Jordan Blilie, one half of the Brothers' verbal assault.
What separates The Blood Brothers from usual, directionless hardcore noisesmiths The Mars Volta and The Locust is how concise they really are when you think they're letting loose, and how the pouting of Billie and Whitney doesn't always require a wall of guitars alongside it; they stand up admirably on their own on slower pieces such as Lift the Veil, Kiss the Tank. It's moments like this that make Young Machetes accessible, and more likely to last multiple plays than previous LPs Crimes and ...Burn Piano Island, Burn. That said it's no compromise--Guitars 1,2,3,4 begins with little more than a muted bassline and maracas but develops into one of the most structurally interesting tracks on the record, and Nausea Shreds Your Head through to Huge Gold AK 47 retain the same wildness that made Crimes's Trash Flavored Trash such a highlight in the band's canon. This is the distilling of that album's sometimes unwelcome electronic twinges: Laser Life strides with quirky keyboards that would sound bereft of malice without the manic vocals of Blilie and Whitney in its second half.
Since few other people have aimed at the band's clean but claustrophobic approach to punk and metal (most notably the now defunct Test Icicles) the Blood Brothers could have turned in another Crimes and ensured themselves another legion of fans, judging by the sudden attention that album received on release, even if it meant critical slurring. Young Machetes is, instead, almost bizarre: a refinement that occasionally brings to mind an extreme piece of high-school theatre moreso than any band 9 years into its career justifiably should; We Ride Skeletal Lightning's concluding breakdown suggests onstage carnage, even if it also features Blilie's sole moment of weakness on the record when he overestimates his shouting range, coming off as more of a yelp.
At first Young Machetes is cloying, but when the band throws in so many hooks that distinguish themselves after just a few listens the screaming becomes more integral than most anything else on the album, and for the open-minded just what it is the band are `saying' becomes bloody-minded post-modern poetry: `the taxis are jaguars throwing fits/ subways are subterranean bullets/ camouflage, camouflage/ the city's draped in camouflage'. But for a summation of everything that makes Young Machetes so sublime it's the final track, Giant Swan, that encapsulates exactly what it is that the band were extracting piece-by-piece to create their best album yet: a slow, menacing build with meaningful gibberish that explodes just over halfway through before slowing the pace in the final minute for an almost arms-swaying, lighters-aloft final refrain. The Blood Brothers have become a flamethrower in the darkness that is art-punk; go set yourself on fire.
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