On the Blood Brothers’ Crimes, vocalist Johnny Whitney squawks, “Everybody needs a little devastation.” As if to prove it, the band sets up meticulous song structures only to dismember them limb by limb. The songs chug along before being immolated in their own fuel. A house of cards is laid to waste amidst a shimmering barrage of guitars. In short, Crimes is a delicately conducted orchestration of devastation.
Crimes is the Blood Brothers’ follow-up to 2003’s critically acclaimed Burn, Piano Island, Burn. Despite a new label and a new producer — John Goodmanson, who’s worked with Sleater-Kinney and Blonde Redhead — Crimes finds the band extending the formulas that have worked well for them in the past.
The strongest track, “Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck,” finds the band desperately climbing a fierce crescendo like it’s a burning staircase. Elsewhere on the record, the Blood Brothers agonize through choruses that sound like At the Drive-In during a fit of nuclear-fallout-delirium, only to stumble into verses that could pass for Fugazi’s vampire siblings. The title song has a twinkle of bloodlust in its eyes as it lurks toward the last battle of the Apocalypse. Crimes has rabies, and you can practically hear it foaming at the mouth — but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Those who might be attracted to the Blood Brothers’ jangly post-punk ferocity might be distracted by Whitney’s squealing bug voice. Like its predecessor, Crimes is drenched with androgynous banshee wails that Whitney drags down the listener’s nerves like crowbars down a blackboard. But it does make him unique; his quivering spaz squeal can sound furious, desperate, even sentimental. Why would he filter such diverse emotional matter through a vocal style that sounds like a twisted imitation of a crying young girl? The lyrics would suggest that Whitney’s entirely serious approach to music is also entirely cynical.
A close listen to the lyrics reveals one of the Blood Brothers’ strongest gifts. At best, the band addresses political themes without force-feeding their audience. Whitney and supporting vocalist Jordan Blilie offer evocative social criticism that is kaleidoscope in its fractured scope. Consider some of the dazzling lyrical imagery on “Celebrator”: “I just want to join the party, but the pinata’s stuffed with oil and sand.” Sometimes, though, the cathartic word association borders on adolescent whining; on “Feed Me to the Forest,” Whitney rants, “Thanks for the fucked up future.”
In the future, the Blood Brothers may face difficult decisions regarding the evolution of their sound. Historically, rock producers have stepped in as the catalysts to elevate talented bands to the next level. When it comes to hard and fast rock ‘n’ roll, many bands face the challenge of integrating melody and aural rest into their barrage of guitars. Bob Rock galvanized Metallica for their self-titled breakthrough; Rick Rubin taught the Red Hot Chili Peppers a few musically (and financially) valuable lessons while recording BloodSugarSexMagik. The Blood Brothers’ peers the Dillinger Escape Plan found space and subtlety in their own brand of mayhem on Miss Machine.
The Blood Brothers’ current sound takes the “kitchen sink” approach, incorporating everything into their musical collage. Crimes‘ heavily layered sound includes dense vocal tracks, accordions, trumpets, synthesizers, no-holds-barred lyrical verbosity, and a million blistering guitars. The flavor evokes punk, metal, hardcore and straight-up noise. Such density is the band’s trademark, but an element of depth and space would only serve to contrast and amplify it. To do so is a sign of maturity, and the Blood Brothers don’t need to sacrifice one ounce of ferocity in order to get there. They have the potential to expand their stylistic boundaries. But for now, they’ve given us an album with enough raw power to scorch the remains of fifteen inferior competitors from the cemetery of your memory.