There are certain music-related memories that will stick with me forever. A handful of them revolve around the avant-garde hardcore band The Blood Brothers.
I’ve come to terms with that “avant-garde” tag in the 6+ years since the group disbanded. In the ocean of shitty hardcore bands, the brothers Blood were a lighthouse. Years ahead of their time, their 5-album discography shone the light on what post-hardcore was missing.
While …Burn, Piano Island, Burn changed the landscape for post-hardcore, its 2004 follow-up Crimes reinforced and refined that reputation.
Piano Island was produced by Ross Robinson (responsible for, amongst other albums, At the Drive-in’s Relationship of Command and Glassjaw’s Worship and Tribute – guy’s a pro, basically), who took the group’s sonic direction and turned it on its head.
Tomorrow I get to write about the album that directly preceded Piano Island, their 2002 release March on Electric Children. For reasons I will explain then, those two albums couldn’t be more different, and the fact that they were released just over a year apart is staggering to me. The primary difference? I’ll say it was money.
I may have errantly reported that Piano Island’s budget was in excess of a cool million dollars due to a quote from one-half of the Blood’s vocalists, Johnny Whitney. I don’t recall where I read it, and now that it has officially been a decade since Piano Island was released, it may just be misinformation via telephone by this point.
Alternative Press says $25,000, which sounds a lot more reasonable. But consider that March on Electric Children was recorded for just $3,000 and the clouds part. No matter how much I adore it, at times Piano Island feels plastic, like Robinson was one of those idiots on Fatal Attractions trying to tame and contain, for instance, a tiger in a Harlem apartment.
The group’s songs went from 90 second bursts (“Birth Skin/Death Leather”) to grotesque, feature-length films (“USA Nails,” “Cecilia & the Silhouette Saloon,” “The Shame”). But for all Robinson’s apparent missteps in handling the Bloods, he actually did them more favors than not.
Let’s face it: the songs on Piano Island could have – should have – been shorter.
Thankfully, under the direction of a new producer (John Goodmanson, who has graced the liner notes of bands like Aiden, Hanson, Pavement, and the Wu-Tang Clan – sheesh), the group was able to retrace its steps, breaking the mold laid out for them by Robinson, but recycling the clay. The album opens with “Feed Me to the Forest” and transitions seamlessly to one of the band’s best ever songs, “Trash Flavored Trash,” aka the song where that kid on Jimmy Kimmel tried to crowd surf, only to be dropped by literally tens of his peers. Hilarious.
“Feed Me” and “Trash” are to Crimes as “Guitarmy” and “Fucking’s Greatest Hits” were to Piano Island: two welded tracks that serve as veritable haymaker openers. First round TKOs. Please don’t make me write any more boxing metaphors. Both let listeners know what they’re in for: 39 minutes of shearing chaos.
“Feed Me” is powered by the other half of the Brothers’ vocal duo, the gangly Jordan Blilie. His low, calm register stands in stark contrast to Whitney’s “hyena through a wood chipper” approach, making for a gorgeous and obscure tandem.
Crimes removes much of the breathing room from Piano Island, tightening up tracks and returning them from whence they came to This Adultery is Ripe-era lengths. It’s a welcome return too, conjuring up concentrated anarchy rather than Piano Island’s “Why is he still yelling at me?”
Perhaps the band’s best known song is “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck,” which follows at track 3. But for me, it just doesn’t hold up anymore. It’s the one screaming Fremdscham on the record (whereas a song like “Wolf Party” on side B is more of a shrugful “meh’). Which is to say, I’m vicariously embarrassed for the people who like that song more than others, I’m guessing for its thematic content? The kind of song that you think is so poignant and inspiring in high school, but years later when you are 26 and listening to it and you’re all like “Why would anyone like this song still, especially when a bad ass song like ‘Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers’ follows it?” and then you eat a cookie.
I’m certain though that others felt Fremdscham for me when, and I’m not joking about this, I played for my English Composition II class “My First Kiss at the Public Execution” and explained my problem with America’s obsession with death to dumbfounded faces, but that could have just been because it was a community college. I regret nothing.
Thematically, Crimes continues where Piano Island left off: Salvador Dali paintings, only with words. On “Rats and Rats and Rats for Candy,” Whitney shrieks: “The dinner was perfect until she opened her mouth / Behind her teeth, fifteen rats started screaming and sobbing.”
While it takes a college degree to even attempt to discern what Whitney and Blilie are trying to say, the way they play with imagery is fascinating. Read the lyrics, really, even if you don’t like the screaming.
And though a sizable portion of the b-side of this album leaves something to be desired (ahem, “Wolf Party,” ahem), Crimes closes with one of its best songs: “Devastator,” a scathing critique of the political landscape that directly followed 9/11.
Another of the aforementioned memories I have that involves the band is one of tremendous juxtaposition. I attended a quote-unquote “non-denominational” Christian high school, but let’s face it, I was surrounded and taught by Baptists who made me loathe religion. If I recall correctly, I was in a portable classroom finishing up teaching myself geometry online (not joking), wearing a Blood Brothers hoodie and brooding (just kidding but not really). The Crimes pre-order went live that morning and I blew through a paycheck faster than you can say “Minimum wage at an AM radio station.”
I still felt like they were a group that needed my support to stay alive. I still felt the same way 3 and a half years later when they parted ways, and I still feel that way now, more than a decade after the first time my ears were assaulted.
From Crimes, this is “Teen Heat” –
Standout tracks: “Trash Flavored Trash,” “My First Kiss at the Public Execution,” “Beautiful Horses” and “Devastator”
Weakest track: “Wolf Party”
RIYL: Thrash, post-hardcore, hardcore, experimental/avant-garde hardcore. Head Wound City, Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower.