Issue #22: Crimes by The Blood Brothers

June 27, 2016

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Crimes by The Blood Brothers
Released On October 12, 2004
Released By V2 Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Shannon Cleary

Each Blood Brothers record tells a very different story about the band. This Adultery Is Ripe is a rabid beast that explodes at every turn. March On Electric Children is the group embracing loftier ambitious ideas and somehow becoming even more intense. At this point, one might imagine that The Blood Brothers had developed such a unique sound that the possibility of them being given a major label opportunity was unlikely.

That’s where the story takes a sharp turn. For …Burn, Piano Island, Burn, The Blood Brothers were signed to Artistdirect. The exposure the band received as a result to this jump was outstanding and this is where Crimes comes in. The follow-up release was The Blood Brothers at their angriest, a reaction to the landscape that we were all occupying in 2004. Songs like “Celebrator” and “Devastator” are reactions to the military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Trash Flavored Trash” is a send-up of news media and how hollow the institutions had become at the start of the twenty-first century.

The abrasive tendencies have always made it a bit of a challenge to turn people onto the band. While many of these claims are valid, the juxtaposition and context of a lot of the songs is where the true charm lies. Take “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Crash” as a prime example. The song blends several ideas while a constant feeling of unease hovers above. After the chaos that opens the record, this feels like a deceit on the part of the band and even when the song eventually hits a noisy stride, it never feels like it exists without purpose. The mood has been set and it’s a highlight for this eclectic release.

The thing that always appealed to me about The Blood Brothers was how they never compromised their sound. They were always just a weird pop band. Their songs had bizarre hooks and weird time changes. They crafted a sound in a short amount of time that could take most musicians years and years to figure out. While The Blood Brothers ended up in the major label system, they felt like the bandits that found a backdoor left open. They wrote songs that were scathing assessments of the way art was seen as currency. They never flinched at letting their opinions known and Crimes was a moment where that sentiment was perfectly articulated.

It’s a shame to know that there would be only one more Blood Brothers record after Crimes. An even greater shame is that the band would cease to exist by 2007. Knowing the trajectory of the twenty-first century and the world we currently occupy, the world might need a band like The Blood Brothers. A rebellious voice that contrasts the lies being projected into the world by the corporate bought media outlets. As the world crumbles around us, a sentiment that vocalist Jordan Blilie said in regards to writing Crimes feels equally as relevant.

“I thought the collective dissent of our generation would bring about positive change. When that didn’t happen, I felt like the bottom had fallen out.”

The Blood Brothers were more than just a spazzy rock outfit that calculated their chaos with a deliberate pop fervent. They were a band that saw bigger things than what the immediate big picture offered and they may have even been far ahead of their time. For many reasons, this is why I still consider them to be one of my favorite groups as well as a constant reminder that no one should ever compromise their art. Let it exist and it will find a place where it belongs in the universe.

Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles

That proud smile in the middle of those ominous glares? That’s you when you listen to this record.

Oh goodness — fancy running into these guys here. The Blood Brothers are a band I have an extensive cultural history with. I don’t know any of the members personally, but when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was taking part in the same basement-show scene they were involved in. I’d describe that scene as progressive/experimental hardcore — kids who’d grown up with Black Flag and Minor Threat albums who now wanted to see how far afield they could take that musical formula while still making something with power, velocity, and a good opportunity for passionate emotional expression (these days, people generally refer to this kind of music as “screamo.” Siiiigh). While I was doing bands that tapped into the raw anger of Black Flag/Discharge-influenced dark stuff, speeding up the tempo and screaming about extremist politics, The Blood Brothers were engaging in exaggerated vocal affect and sassily swanning around the stage as they integrated melodramatic goth tendencies into their idea of hardcore. Boy did I hate them. And that stayed true until they blew everybody’s mind by signing to a major label (the turn of the millennium was a weird time in the record industry — literally everything was making money, so some weird-ass shit ended up with really powerful backing). At that point, they cranked up the weirdness and got so fascinating that I couldn’t help but fall under their spell. The way so many of my black-clad compatriots held them in vitriolic contempt helped push me from distaste to fascination and enjoyment. I wanted to laugh at everyone I’d previously agreed with; it was just so obvious that they were threatened by the overt goofiness of shit like “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” or “Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy.” So suddenly I found myself switching allegiance and yelling things like “Are you kidding? I love the Blood Brothers!”, drawing scandalized looks inbetween bands at basement shows. It wasn’t just an ironic stance to be annoying, either — to this day I think Crimes is their best record, and a full-on classic of experimental hardcore. Where a lot of kids I knew would only endorse the early independent Blood Brothers efforts (most notably This Adultery Is Ripe), I have long maintained that they only really got interesting once they had that major-label money and decided to see how crazy they could get with it. This album is full of examples: the way noise anthem “Trash Flavored Trash” veers from distorted freakouts to goofy herky-jerk mutant dance verses is a pretty solid statement of purpose for the album and band as a whole. The musically playful, lyrically spooky “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck” takes the music to strange and incongruous places as it expresses a lyrical sentiment that is revealed to be confrontationally feminist and anti-patriarchal… once you pick through the poetically obscure turns of phrase. “Crimes” is a mournful ballad dripping with goofy sass vocals and surrealist lyrical imagery — an important aspect of the Blood Brothers’ greatness, and don’t ever forget it — featuring a spooky gothic organ. Almost every song here is a highlight, though, so while I could go on like this for another paragraph or two, let’s just say that this album is essential listening. Crimes is proof positive that pulling established genres in any and all directions — even (maybe especially) the goofy ones — is always worth doing. Because sometimes, once you push through all of those fears about embarrassment and social ostracism, you find something truly transcendent.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

I was listening to a well-executed, soulful country album that shall go unnamed earlier this week. I should have loved it — right in my genre wheelhouse — but I couldn’t get into it. It was too… easy. Consistent to the point of rote. I thought about it while listening to Crimes on a run later in the week. In the quiet moments after “Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy” ended, I remember taking a deep breath and appreciating the silence, like you would after taking the last bite of an amazing meal or barely avoiding a car crash. It felt like I’d just been through something. That’s what was missing from the country album — the feeling something vital is happening that’s going to change me in some way. And as harsh as The Blood Brothers can sound to my admittedly noise-averse ears, I love that they made this statement in this way. The W years spawned a lot of protest music. One album I’ve been going back to is The Flaming Lips’ At War With The Mystics, and while I love it, it feels like a dark picture painted with bright colors. Crimes, on the other hand, captures the concentrated, righteous anger I felt during that time. W’s decisions had (and still have) violent, bloody, disastrous consequences, and if that’s not worth screaming about, I don’t know what is.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Blood Brothers’ Crimes is not a sit-down-and-enjoy-your-coffee-on-a-Monday-morning kind of record. Or maybe it is. It’s just the thing to wake you up and get your day started with a bang. Crimes is chaotic and comes out of the gate at 100 mph. It refuses to stick with one way of presenting a song and that keeps the listener engaged through the whole record — although I did have to listen to “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” a few times because it quickly became my favorite track on the record.

Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler

Sometimes music becomes attached to very specific memories and feelings. Whenever I hear The Blood Brothers, a file folder marked “Summer 2003” opens in my brain and I’m transported to the living room of a going away party. There are delicious snacks, adult beverages and …Burn, Piano Island, Burn is playing on the stereo. After the party, I was surprised to discover that it was available at the corporate mall record store I worked for and that it was actually on the store playable list. V2 (or Virgin Records 2) was sort of a cool sub-major label that dumped money into underground bands so it made sense that a song from BPIB was on the new instore sampler. I played it a lot and customers/staff hated it, which made me like it even more. I remember going to see Blood Brothers at Alley Katz, but it just didn’t have the impact as hearing them for the first time. I bought Crimes in 2004 but again, it just wasn’t as powerful. Looking back on their catalog, it’s interesting to note the role producers had on the band. …Burn, Piano Island, Burn was produced by “The Godfather of Nu Metal” Ross Robinson who also produced albums like At the Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command (which I love), but is more known for working with bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Sepultura. Crimes and Young Machetes were both produced by John Goodmanson who is best known for producing Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, but the secret weapon on Young Machetes, which I prefer over Crimes, is Guy Picciotto. Just having Guy Picciotto‘s name attached to the project made me, and I’m assuming lots of other people, check back in with The Blood Brothers. For me, Ross and Guy seemed to to have brought a little more creativity to the studio than John and I think The Blood Brothers needed that extra push.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

Click below to watch the slightly hypnagogic bar room video for “Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck.”

I spent too much time wondering what the guy wished for with his birthday cupcake.

Do you ever feel like you have outgrown a whole genre of music? Most people I know feel that way about pop punk, a genre made for and by young people, which is why it seemingly has a revival every ten or so years. In my late teens and early twenties, I was so into hardcore that I sold so many indie rock records I regret (oh, original of Lush’s Split, how I miss you!), bought stacks of colored LPs on No Idea, went to several house shows a week, and completely dressed the part. It’s funny how it was such a large part of my life and all that’s left of it are all my still-listenable Orchid records. So I came into Blood Brothers’ Crimes with a lot of baggage. I remember them as a major label version of all the bands I loved so much — even though they had been a band since 1997 and were connected to people I like and respect — so of course I made it a point never to listen to them. All the characteristics are there: two singers, random keyboard bits, long pretentious song titles (“Live at the Apocalypse Cabaret“), lots of references to animals (not sure why this was a thing but it totally was) and frantic rhythms. But something weird happened this time: I actually enjoyed Blood Brothers. “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” (still ugh to these titles) is straight up a great song, which has a strong build and something that sounds like a conversation between the two vocalists, Johnny Whitney and Jordan Billie. Most of the songs are really catchy and fun, which I always appreciate. At the very least, this week has encouraged me to dig through my records and listen to some gems I thought I had outgrown.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

When riots broke out at premiere performances of music by Stravinsky and Schoenberg, it was partially because some people could not hear the music in the sounds coming from the stage. And music is what they were expecting from a night at the concert hall. Aha! I hear you say — but what is music? Well, the definition is always changing. Which brings us to The Blood Brothers. I’ve gotta admit, Crimes took some work on my part. I was doing background research, looking at photos, watching videos, reading reviews and interviews — all things I usually don’t do for an OYR write-up. I think what threw me was the assimilation of avant-garde vocal techniques (Yamatsuka Eye in Naked City, for example) into a kind of hardcore take on pop-punk. Took a while to gel, partly because I wasn’t quite sure how artistically disciplined the whole thing was. Then there’s the hardwired reaction to sound. Some of the Rite of Spring sounds alarming and the audience reacted accordingly. At first, it sounded as if Jordan Billie, one of the two singers in The Blood Brothers, was being tortured, which is also alarming, and I recoiled. The vocals are mixed so far forward it’s hard to focus on anything else. But gradually the chaos coalesced, like my eyes adjusting to a dark room, and the songs began to make some kind of brave, daring sense. I even started to hear some nuance in Billie’s caterwauling, strains of inflection from blues and soul. It ain’t easy to be original, and with their dual-vocal attack, occasional distorted keyboards, and fresh take on loud-quiet-loud, The Blood Brothers can lay claim to hoeing their own row. So while I may never love this record, kudos to them for creating a distinctive racket. And if I had a bratty younger sister or brother, Crimes would be required listening for them.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

I don’t care what you think — this picture is dope.

Static. Tone. Scratch. Scrape. A creaky door opens to a creepy-core of a house, screechings something of an operaticised Jimmy Page waft from room to room over corpulent riffs. And like every horror show, it suffers from a bit of campy overexhuberance, but the sequitizing is artful and enough to coax our unsuspecting ears to wander further, deeper in. Spectreous falsettos surround like a panic attack while we are more corporally assaulted by gilded guitar gusts. And for me it’s the undercurrent gothic swagger that keeps the whole affair from coming off just silly. But were these crimes of a supernatural nature? There’s a rickety shelf full of exotic apothecary bottles. Unicorn hair that’s been cut. Hoof of the Deer. Something labeled “Big Black.” Trails of Dead. Amongst the curdled blood, there is a Victorian chair upon which I settle and tap my toe — right before the floorboards begin to give way and dash into the next chamber. A cat runs across a piano, just before turning to hiss. Thump thump thump and jump! In this party for restless souls, it’s the frenetic and irascible sonics that prove more succulent than the shrieks, but hey, sometimes you gotta let it all out, even if it’s your very last breath.

Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz

The thing about The Blood Brothers, and bear with me on this one, is that there’s a lot of unpleasant sounds on their albums. My first experience with them was the album before Crimes, …Burn, Piano Island, Burn, which was given to me by a friend and which I initially didn’t care for, but eventually loved. The thing about the unpleasant sounds is that they establish a baseline for what this band is capable of. By demonstrating what Blood Brothers brand cacophony sounds like, they are able to really evoke some beautiful moments such as the coda of “Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret” and the beginning of “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” among others. And, gradually, what seems beautiful begins to drift into the territory of what once seemed cacophonous until it all seems beautiful in one way or another. I also really appreciate an album with this kind of aesthetic having tracks that flow into each other. It makes the possibility of quicksilver changes all the more likely and this album, and this band, was made for quicksilver changes. So, at the end of the day, while this isn’t an album I’d play for my wife, or for a casual acquaintance, it’s a bit like jazz. At first, it might sound like a bunch of questionably talented musicians doing random things, but if you’re patient, and have a little faith, you find that this is a band of considerable talent playing at the top of their game.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

I can’t figure out if I’ll be in the minority on this or not, but here goes… Despite the consistent guttural/visceral/blood curtailing aggression of Crimes, I find the most satisfaction in the outlying moments. For instance, the ironically low-key “Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret“. For me, this syrupy, down-tempo number brings back memories of the early ’90s Seattle scene, which surely had a huge influence on The Blood Brothers (hailing from Seattle). Bloody murder is one thing when committed with a machete, but it’s much more intense with a butter knife. I think that’s probably the best way to describe “Cabaret.” The other standout is the brilliantly catchy “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers.” The unexpected, and well-placed Wurlitzer keys are just downright funky! Replace Blood Brothers’ vocals with, say Cee-Lo Green, and you’ve potentially got a Top 40 hit on your bloody hands. When the bongo break hit, I made that face that says “now you guys are just showing off,” immediately followed by the stink-face (which is maybe most-approving face you can possibly make in terms of enjoying music). I actually had the urge to dance to this one, and I’m almost certain that’s not the reaction the band wanted.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

I’m tempted to summarize Crimes with a single repeated shriek that pops up in “Devastator,” the closing track of this gripping record: “Everybody needs a little devastation.” For those who have heard this record, it’s a perfect summation of the forty minute aural onslaught the band has unleashed with schizophrenic melodies and strident vocals. But it’s not a good way to introduce you, the unaware reader, to this riveting collection of music. While there is devastation abound in every song, there is a virtue and charm to the music that you won’t find in most hardcore bands. It might be hard to lock down on the opener “Feed Me To The Forest” and unfortunately “Trash Flavored Trash” doesn’t either, even if it is among the best songs on the record. But that’s just because you’re not speaking The Blood Brothers’ language yet. Luckily, the band’s personal Rosetta Stone comes next on the third track, “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck,” and you really begin to understand what’s happening in the music and why it’s ultimately spectacular. I’m not talking about the record’s theme though — the Bush takedowns do bolster this record to a higher level, but it’s not an integral part of its quality. What I’m getting at is that on “Love Rhymes With A Hideous Car Wreck,” you begin to grasp their variant songwriting and antithetical band dynamic and it opens your mind up to the rest of the wonder to follow. It allows you to reconcile the more melodic and scrupulous moments with the tumultuous and somewhat deranged aspects of the music and realize that they work hand-in-hand throughout, not in spite of which could be the listener’s initial thought. Chaos and devastation win out in the end of course, but harmony and assonance are still there in the background, just as deserving of the record’s success as any anarchy the band unleashed.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill by Grouper
Chosen By David Munro

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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