Tuesday, July 10th 2012
Reviews: Jeff The Brotherhood
After a decade of building a cult following for their brand of psychedelic garage punk while releasing six albums on their own Infinity Cat label, DIY kings Jake and Jamin Orrall appear ready for the big time. Recruiting none other than Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys for production duties on their seventh record and major label debut Hypnotic Nights, the sibling duo known as JEFF The Brotherhood crafted the album of the summer—a high energy ode to escaping from the shackles of modern life and submerging themselves into a carefree world surrounded by friends and replete with drinking, smoking, and, as the Brothers Orrall like to say, “cooling out.”
Although Hypnotic Nights is without a doubt more polished and poppy than their previous, self-released efforts, it maintains the duo’s thunderously heavy edge. Jake’s brutal guitar riffs and Jamin’s unrelentingly savage drumbeats remain present throughout, but all 11 tracks are infused with a catchier, foot-stomping feel that only occasionally found its way onto those earlier records. The comparisons to Weezer are justified, but only if Rivers Cuomo and company threw down with the force of “Say It Ain’t So” or “Hash Pipe” every time they hit record.
The album’s opening track Country Life sets the tone for the rest of Hypnotic Nights with its lament of not being able to escape the city for both literal and figurative greener pastures, kicking off with the borderline comedic lyric “I want a place where I can smoke meats / where I can drink and swim in the creek.” The first single Sixpack follows with its blueprint for proper party camping (demonstrated visually in the accompanying summertime fun video). Jake makes no bones about his desire to flee urban life, not to mention his image of an idyllic summer outing: “Let’s load the car up. / I got a bag of ice. / I got a sixpack, / and I don’t wanna go back. / It’s pretty hot out. / It’s only 50 miles. / I wanna cool out / and get wasted.” This unending party has always been a theme in JEFF The Brotherhood’s music, but with these first two impossibly catchy tracks, it’s clear they’ve found an exquisite balance between their garage rock roots and a more mainstream (although no less rocking) sound.
The pace slows a bit on the fuzzy and tripped out Mystic Portal II before the brothers rev back up for Hypnotic Mind, a track that speaks of submission to another. As with the rest of Hypnotic Nights, the Weezer-esque “ooow woos” are ever present here, making it impossible not to sing along. Wood Ox is the poppiest the band gets, but is yet another example of the duo not shying from mixing shredding guitar and pounding drums with newer, more melodious vocals.
Staring At The Wall closes out the album’s first half with its muddy riffs and Jake questioning why and how he has alienated himself from a woman. The track features a delicately plucked, bluesy breakdown before the band dives back into their fuzzed out, frenetic explosion of noise and a swirling, distortion-filled sonic meltdown as Jake repeatedly sings the chorus, “Nothing’s happenin’ when I’m staring at the wall,” a message of isolation as well as resignation to the necessity of keeping his mouth shut to avoid messing up a relationship.
The album begins its slower second half when the theme of escape returns on Leave Me Out, a rumbling, bumbling but melodious romp of a track. On Region Of Fire, the brothers break out a sax and a sitar in a song initially reminiscent of the later-Brian Jones-era Stones, before Jake steps into the role of guitar god with a lilting but still electrifying guitar solo.
Despite its title, Hypnotic Winter starts as a rousing, piano-driven (yes, piano-driven) track with Jake occasionally taking a hack at singing in falsetto, before the band’s more familiar, swirling, dirty guitar and drum sound returns briefly before the song ends and continues into the psychedelic-tinged Dark Energy. Closing out the album is a cover of Black Sabbath’s Changes, off Ozzy and company’s 1972 album Vol. 4. Jake’s ethereal vocals sound much like Mr. Osbourne’s, meshing beautifully with an eerie organ in an ideal denouement to a loud and often raucous album.
All-in-all, Hypnotic Nights isn’t all that different from previous JEFF The Brotherhood albums. Enormous, distorted guitars and viciously pounded drums stirred together into an aggressive mix of psych-punk madness. But this time around, behind that brutal loudness lays a more melodic tone rarely heard before from the Orrall brothers. Perhaps it’s Auerbach’s influence, inserting more dance-friendly sounds that can be heard on recent Keys’ albums, or maybe it’s just Jake and Jamin looking to appeal to a slightly broader audience.
Whatever the reason behind JEFF The Brotherhood’s newfound sound, it’s clear the boys can certainly still whip their audience into a frenzy. But now, instead of being the ideal music for a dark club somewhere in the bowels of the city, it’s the perfect soundtrack for heading out to the countryside on a hot and humid summer day, bobbing to the beat as you can’t help pressing the gas pedal to the floor.
[Photo by Jo McCaughey]