On The Blood Brothers
It is my understanding that somewhere, with some group of people, the The Blood Brothers are quite popular. Not amongst my friends, however, and certainly not amongst the audience of this past week’s two Coheed & Cambria shows in Baltimore and DC. I attended both, and the few Blood Brothers fans were greatly outnumbered by Coheed fans grumbling that they’d never heard worse music in their lives. That, however, is an entirely separate post.
The Blood Brothers make dissonant and, initially, offputting music. I was in a foul mood when I really took the time to give their Burn Piano Island Burn a proper listen, and said mood lubricated an otherwise abrasive first listen. Under the surface din, the Blood Brothers have a complex and engaging musicality. Quick tempo and stylistic changes are their instrumentalists’ forte, proving they are a hardcore act at heart.
It’s the dueling vocals of singers Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney that drew me into the band’s records, however. Both have a tendency towards screaming, but can drop into a menacing talking-on-pitch or caterwauling wail at the drop of a hat. Johnny’s voice is particularly unsettling, occupying upper registers usually reserved for sopranos delivering arias, not eardrum-piercing shrieks.
This vocal delivery suits the Blood Brothers’ nightmarish lyrics, which are best understood as the evolution of a punk motif. The first crop of American punk bands wrote literal, plainly worded songs about their dismal surroundings, eg Fear’s “I Love Livin’ In The City”. The second wave took this in a more whimsical direction, moving from mere description to fantasies of empowerment, eg the Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch The Landlord”. Now, some thirty-odd years since the emergence of punk, bands like the Blood Brothers are the absurdists of the day, offering distorted pictures of a world that’s slipped away from the humane into something monstrous and unrecognizable.
Take “Ambulance vs Ambulance”, in which the vehicles and medical personnel we associate innately with anonymous and everpresent safety are transformed into moral enforcers. An example in tune with the band’s predecessors’ criticisms of mainstream culture:You’ll never see your wife and children again so tell us what it was going through your head when you looked into their eyes and said “no thanks, I’ll take the hooker instead.” You’ll never see that office again so when the nurse amputates both of your thighs come a little bit closer to the mic and tell us what you miss more: your desk or the hungry sky.
The song that follows on Burn Piano Island Burn, “USA Nails”, relays a disturbing conversation between a prison inmate and a phone-sex-operator-cum-Dial-a-Confession. One passage is a Lynchian snapshot of the sick underside of suburban teenage lust:Do you remember that night in the back of daddy’s car? Strumming the chords of your pubic guitar? The way you tasted just like a movie star? The way the windshield reflected the sunrise? The way the light tattooed your thighs? Oh, you’re the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. Your time is up, ‘till next time… we’ll send you a bill.
There’s more criticism of modern coupling on _Crimes_’s “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck”, perhaps my favorite of their songs for its conveyance of the plausible and wrenching story of a callous young man burned and disfigured in a car accident, dutifully visited by a girl he never had the capacity to love. His punishment is a howling caution against taking people for granted:She met him a week after you left her when you tossed out her touch to the garbage collector. He talked her out of her skirt in his beer-soaked apartment and then they did all the things you never said that you wanted. And the sirens are laughing underneath your skull. And your thoughts are turning dull, callous, and cold.
As is clear, when the band forays into human nature they linger on the dark side, like the serial killer ballad of “The Salesman Denver Max”. Yet many of their songs linger in more poetic realms, calling forth birds and other animals to roam around rotting trashscapes. They’re not the happiest young men, in short, but their dystopian daymares are our listening pleasure.
The band’s stage show is well done, a premeditated selection of newer and older material with a comfortable amount of improvisation and Sonic Youth-inspired feedback experimentation. For all the whirling aggression of their music, the Blood Brothers leave the jumping about to their fans, preferring to remain fairly stationary while delivering the utmost brutality from their instruments and vocal chords. It’s not an act that will engender new fans, but it pleased the handful of us at the Coheed shows.