I’ve done the math, and the results are in: 100% of me thinks that The Blood Brothers’ 2003 album …Burn, Piano Island, Burn! is my desert island record.
My favorite band for the last decade, it should comes as no surprise that in high school, I somehow managed to acquire the characteristic of “that kid who really loves The Blood Brothers.” So fine with that.
In honor of the 300th day of this project, and the fact that I finally have gotten to this record at the end of the 10th month, and because I wanted to do something special: Here are some thoughts about each cut off this crucial jam.
“Guitarmy” is 39 seconds long. It is the purest gut punch, and over before listeners know they’re being assaulted.
I think “Fucking’s Greatest Hits” has got to be the most overlooked and underrated song of this album – which is strange, showing under a minute into the record. It hosts the raddest bassline on the entirety of Piano Island, raw and growling. Near the end, the gang chant of “Ring! Ring! Ring out the gong!” takes the song to a different level, and cements the fact that this record is, in so many words, a force.
As if it couldn’t get any better already, Johnny Whitney jumpstarts the title track with the line, “Bulimic rainbows vomit, what? Burn, piano island, burn!” It’s a perfect display of the group’s bizzarro, Salvador Dali-esque lyrics splattered against the backdrop of audible insanity. Perfection.
“Every Breath is a Bomb” is the best example of the band’s ability to waffle on a whim between furious abrasion and head-nodding catchyness. This track is littered with Johnny Whitney’s outrageous, “hyena being put through a wood chipper” vocals mixed with Jordan Blilie’s subversive, bassy and thick rumbles.
Though it serves as the first single from Piano Island, “Ambulance vs. Ambulance” is just one of a handful of different songs that could have been released as radio friendly. Either “Fucking’s Greatest Hits” or the title-track should also have been singles, but I digress. It’s at times a twisted brand of sweet, Whitney’s falsetto backed by a triangle, which devolves into a slurry mess of guitars and drums. I should mention here that seeing Mark Gajadhar live was a treat, because that dude positively slams without drawing much attention to himself. I don’t know how he does it.
Embarrassing story: “USA Nails” was the inspiration for the name of my Xanga blog. Whoops. Meanwhile, the song is a sensual, glittering nightmare, once again highlighting the band’s adherence to crafting horrifying literary hallucinations. Cody Votolato might not get the most love for his guitar work because of the two men blaring over them, but the man is a genius. So angular but impossible not to love.
If I’m not mistaken, “Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon” is the first cut I heard from this record, coming from the tremendous and gritty Jungle Rules Live DVD the band released in 2002, ahead of Piano Island – which you can now watch in full (!) on YouTube. It’s a totally gratifying blast from the past, and I’m glad I own the DVD, because it feels like a piece of history. It’s like watching two eras simultaneously: the group’s early stages as young innovators, followed by the band’s latter stages as… older… innovators. If I had to pick one song that best represented all the different facets of the brothers Blood, I’d pick “Cecilia,” hands down. Fuzzy keys, dueling vocalists wailing away at their lung capacities, multi-layered sections with unique time signatures that fit together as a 1000-piece puzzle, a sugary sweet sing-along section, and complete insanity to close, a breakdown so pummeling, it could be the sonic representation of a building collapse. This song is everything.
“Six Nightmares at the Pinball Masquerade” acts as a sort of palette-cleanser following the exhaustion listeners will no doubt feel following the conclusion of “Cecilia.” “Six Nightmares” breathes in a way that few other tracks on Piano Island do, a precursor of sorts to what the band would go on to do with an album like Young Machetes. But then, naturally, Johnny Whitney and company throw a pipe bomb in the mainframe. See ya, “Nightmares.”
The story of “The Salesman, Denver Max” is based on the terrifying Joyce Carol Oates short story, ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ It’s also one of the few/only? Blood Brothers song to use an acoustic guitar, because why not. A little more than halfway through the song comes one of the neatest sections of any of the band’s catalogue: just Whitney and a raw bass riff.
Finally, a song where Jordan Blilie dominates! “I Know Where the Canaries and Crows Go” showcases Blilie’s steady, bassy intonations unlike any other song this side of his other band, Past Lives. It’s amazing to me that he wasn’t given more of a prominent role in the group’s work, because when he was allowed the spotlight, he embraced it, stealing the show. I can only speculate, but perhaps this was a contributing factor in the group’s eventual demise. The aforementioned Past Lives have released a couple of EPs and a full length, and they’ve all been excellent.
It took me a while to figure it out, but “God Bless You, Blood Thirsty Zeppelins” is my favorite song from Piano Island. This is not a test. “Zeppelins” builds to the zenith, building into a maddening crescendo of swirling guitars. But the final 2 minutes is the most satisfying release of the whole record. Are you kidding me with that, guys? You need a medal.
“The Shame” puts a mesmerizing bow on the album, wrapping up the turning point for The Blood Brothers. This was the end of their early, ill-produced but still lovable spastic era, and the beginning of their refined ability to capture their live show energy and bottle skeletal lightning, again and again. This album put them in the experimental annals, the Hardcore Hall of Fame, if you will.
This record means everything to me. For me, …Burn, Piano Island, Burn! is the best experimental hardcore album since the turn of the century. It is an artful masterwork.
Thank you Jordan, Johnny, Morgan, Cody, and Mark and everyone else involved in the creation of this record. It is perfection.
Standout tracks: Everything.
Weakest track: No.
RIYL: Experimental hardcore.