Friday, August 8, 2008

The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island Burn

The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island Burn

Straight out of Seattle, creating some of the most viciously hyperactive music I have ever heard, come the Blood Brothers. A five-piece hardcore/post-hardcore outfit, the Blood Brothers lasted from 1997 to 2007, playing an experimental and incredibly frenetic form of punk full of anger and aplomb. On ...Burn, Piano Island Burn, the group employs a more varied offence than seen in previous releases, as each song seems to seamlessly switch back and forth between fierce, balls-out hardcore and slower, more rhythmically-coordinated pop music. Considered by many to be the Blood Brothers’ magnum opus, …Burn, Piano Island Burn is an album full of convulsive, frantic music, one that refuses to let up to the very end.

The vocals will be the most obviously apparent thing noticed by any first-time listener, and rightly so. The vocal duties of the band are traded back and forth between the low-key, ominous cries of Jordan Billie and the blood-curdling screams of Johnny Whitney, showcasing an interesting duality between the two that reflects the diversity of the music. Billie often takes center stage while the music is still building in intensity, whereas Whitney shines mainly during the chorus, as his shrieks blend seamlessly with the high-octave onslaught of the refrain. Lyrically, the band covers a number of subject matters bordering on the morose and the gruesome, often utilizing disturbing surrealist imagery and metaphors to transcend the situation (When Cecilia's throat slit like a second set of lips/she drooled braille bibles onto the brothel bed spread). To call it morbid would seem like a measure of stating the obvious, but thankfully, it doesn’t come off as simple shock value due to the removed and sullen manner in which these lines are delivered. Rather than revel in the violence which the band deals with, Billie’s vocals remain oddly detached most of the time, neither celebrating the brutality of characters such as “The Salesman, Denver Max”, nor condemning them. It seems more of an exploration of these people, and thereby an examination of the society that creates them, rather than just pure vicarious misogyny. Songs like “Ambulance Vs. Ambulance” support this claim by taking a critical look at the products of mainstream society in the first verse, and then providing a more specific examination of an everyman who cheated on his wife in the second (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"), all of which is linked together through the colourful backdrop of a hospital ward. By combining their two-pronged attack with such imaginative and multifaceted themes, the Blood Brothers feature one of the most unique vocal and lyrical assaults in all of punk.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that …Burn, Piano Island Burn is not an easy listen, and could prove quite beyond the reach of many. Musical harmony is thrown to the background throughout most of the faster tracks on this album, with the band resorting to a voracious mixture of discordantly creative instrumentalism in its place. The guitar feels jagged and unrelenting, almost bloodthirsty in its ability to drive the songs forward, and the bass complements its squealing perfectly. To a first-time listener, it may seem like nothing more than noise, with no thought given to melody at all, but over time, patterns emerge which shows the band's distinct attention to detail in creating each song. The instruments act as a piece of the story being told, intermingled with and subject to the topic at hand, rather than being counted on solely to dictate the pace. The guitars slow and the bass becomes more noticeable to suggest an ominous passage in the song; the music picks up, coalescing into a cacophonous explosion to denote a feeling of dire importance into the song. Much like a surrealist painting, the sum of the seemingly disparate parts work together in creating the message of the whole.

With …Burn, Piano Island Burn, the Blood Brothers create their best work, combining the frenzied, no holds barred appeal of past efforts while acquiring a more listenable, pop-oriented styling that would eventually become front and center on Crimes. Bizarre, morbid, and utterly demented, this is one of the most unique punk albums of the decade, and also one of the best.


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