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The Blood Brothers Biography

Last updated: 12/04/2010 11:00:00 AM

I stand on one side of a great divide, surrounded by over-analytical obsessives in tattered, earthtone clothes, our confidence or insecurity dependent on the obscurity of our record collections. We sigh in disdain at the revelers across the chasm, their pink hair, studded belts and denim signifying clueless victimization at the hands of made-up TRL rebels and one-word "garage" bands. We've been eying each other with suspicion and contempt for years, but taking stock of the current situation, it seems that-- for their uncritical record collections, contaminated by major labels and soundtracks-- the Manic Panic pagans are having a lot more fun than the sheepish, socially retarded "aesthetes" around me.

Though I'm probably too old to party with the opposition, I'm lately having more fun observing their exuberance than enduring the paranoid stares of a thousand overcautious pretenders to the tastemaking throne. I'd been looking for a way out of here for months when I caught the daring stare of an obnoxious 21 year-old siren with-- naturally-- a Neurosis patch stitched to her bike bag. She led me away from the shit-talking, permanently dissatisfied masses, her fluorescent jelly bracelets my beacon in pitch black, until rounding a sharp corner, the flaming pyres of a mile-long overpass lit up the night sky. I crossed this burning bridge last weekend, and learned I have Seattle's Blood Brothers to thank for completing this monumental span, which Refused broke ground on some years back.

Blood Brothers' early singles and full-length debut This Adultery Is Ripe barely rose above forced, bombastic screamo; they had moments, but were very late to a game played by Murder City Devils and oversaturated with marginal acts like Sleepytime Trio. As with their recent tourmates Milemarker, however, Blood Brothers grew in leaps and bounds, offering hugely improved compositions and a more authentic mania on their second LP, last year's March On, Electric Children! They made the questionable/bold decision to sample Nine Inch Nails' "Perfect Drug" on "Kiss of the Octopus", and closed the album with an exasperated solo piano version of "American Vultures". Dramatic gear shifts like this are a dangerous dare: you either drop your transmission or leave the competition in the dust. I'd lost sight of Blood Brothers since that shift, and didn't know if they'd pulled ahead or fallen behind, but as soon as I caught Burn, Piano Island, Burn in the rearview, I took my foot off the gas in defeated awe: they just lapped me.

Drowningman recently flipped the switch on hardcore with their lunatic math fury, but Blood Brothers take it much farther, stripping away the violence and meathead confrontation, setting the high-pitched wailing and tempo freakouts of grindcore against deliberate, menacing vocals informed by Ian Svenonius and The The's Matt Johnson. Milemarker's Satanic Verses (which I savaged for its inconsistency) obviously drew something from their approach, and though Pretty Girls Make Graves and Blood Brothers are friends, they're hardly comparable; Burn, Piano Island, Burn is frighteningly slick in both production and technique, but full of so much substance, its composite opposition is almost self-negating. This record is impossible.

After their half-minute statement of intent ("Guitarmy"), "Fucking's Greatest Hits" leads with a funk-era Stevie Wonder guitar riff that-- incredibly-- works alongside a Jesus Lizard bassline, leading into a bloodthirsty chorus that never lets up, flailing wildly out of the gates. While the album's title track begins in even more overtly reptilian territory (borrowing from "Killer McHann"), it's also more controlled than its spastic predecessor, slowing things down to a perceptible pace and showcasing the almost feminine, metallic squeal that dominates the record, drawing Korn and Melt-Banana fans in equal number. Its central choruses are among the catchiest moments on the record, maniac incantations from a surreal cut-and-paste evisceration of society, hidden in its lyric sheet: "I buried my bride of eight-inch fingers deep in the hungry quicksand/ I buried our child of pineapple skin where the generic
sunsets sparkle so bland."

The lead single "Ambulance vs. Ambulance" is heavily evocative of The The-- in its calmer moments running like "Infected" or "Jealous of Youth" at 45 RPM-- but its smooth, speedy verse is broken by a stabbing pre-chorus attack, teasing before the song launches into a stratospheric four-chord chorus. For its simplicity, the chorus is welcome relief from the murderous wailing and stop/start chaos that make this album completely overwhelming on a straight listen. The breakdown is indicative of the album's sinister intent, one of few moments you'll decipher without visual aides: "You'll never see your wife and children again/ So tell us what was going through your head/ When you looked into their eyes and said/ "No thanks, I'll take the hooker instead."

The swaying, reggae-tinged "Every Breath Is a Bomb" is an unfortunate low-light on this otherwise astounding album-- think No Doubt on bad acid-- but beyond this ill-advised trip, the problem with Burn, Piano Island, Burn is the very one they set out to solve: it's hard to take their chosen genre anywhere new. Of three major breaks with expectation, two fail. In addition to the melting image of Gwen Stefani I'm stuck with, "God Bless You, Blood Thirsty Zeppelins!" conjures Marilyn Manson-ian melodrama in its second half, as overdone zombie choruses lead into chugging, straight-ahead radio rock.

In contrast, Blood Brothers' third experiment is stunning, and completely unexpected. "The Shame" begins as a sedated march, a sincere twang ballad that gently rolls into a perfect dawn chorus for the lecherous all-nighter in their wake: "Everything is going to be just awful when we're around." The reverse-guitar ache and insistent snare rolls are unnecessarily interrupted, however, as a minute or so of the screamo explosions we're more than familiar with by album's end come crashing down. Not to second-guess someone else's art, but it would have made a perfect straight finale without the regression; that the song cuts off in midstream is enough of a middle finger to convention.

Regardless, Burn, Piano Island, Burn balances so perfectly between commercial appeal and untainted creativity that it's as if the band have been digitally inserted atop a mountain no man could conceivably climb. Like their cutup album art, the Blood Brothers offer an incongruous marriage of humor, hate and heresy, evidencing a dedicated collective of disparate and individual brilliance. This album will unite clashing factions holding onto their illusions for dear life by reducing them to equally powerless spectators: pretentious pontificates and preening poseurs look pretty much the same with their jaws on the floor.

-Chris Ott, March 24th, 2003