Nashville’s JEFF The Brotherhood has been around for over a decade now, but only started to achieve notoriety with 2009′s Heavy Days. It’s a relatively apt way to describe the twosome; brothers Jake (guitar) and Jamin (drums) playing together since childhood moving from band to band ultimately to churn out their calling as JEFF, a heavy, power chord-driven force that knows not the meaning of exhaust. They work quickly, as Hypnotic Nights is the third album to come out following their breakthrough. If you’ve read any of my past reviews, chances are that you’ve come across an artist from Infinity Cat Records. This is truly one of the best indie labels in the game as of now, and on their roster of greats, JEFF sits at the top, hailed as responsible for deeming it legendary. Let’s see if they deliver.
Listen to “Sixpack”
Being a two-piece act, you make a conscious choice to step into a condemnation of sound. You’re limited with space. The White Stripes made due, as did The Black Keys… until they added a keyboardist and bassist to the mix. As a result, production creativity has to come into play if you wish to stimulate your listeners, especially for JEFF The Brotherhood. A group as strum-oriented as the Orrall brothers is known for their fast, chord-punk songs like “Shredder”, a title exemplary of the type of songs I am aiming to describe. To avoid any blandness when going over Hypnotic Nights, the boys have employed a plethora of new noisemakers to their arsenal, specifically in the keys department. “Country Life” begins the new era after Jake’s introductory utterance “I want a place where I can smoke meats” when a bloop-bleep effect geysers in the speakers straight out of a 16-bit system. It’s a mild eruption that mimics something similar to the liquidation of crystals, if there ever was such a sound effect. The Brotherhood doesn’t step lightly into these waters; it’s practically a barrage. “Wood Ox” gets a plinky piano and “Sixpack” borrows the same fuzzy keyboard from the opening track. They don’t limit themselves to keys though, a surprising amount of saxophone can be heard on this record as well as some occasional acoustic guitar, which is a rarity for Jake.
Another common method they use to mask any possible indistinguishability between tracks is upping the usage of Jake’s guitar overdrive going from verse to refrain, or vice-versa. Basically, these two have covered all the bases concerning any nitpicking they may have received on Heavy Days or We Are The Champions for songs like “Shredder” or “Bone Jam”; (both excellent tunes, although they do feature the “cliché” chugging strumming style, à la Ramones). JEFF has even gone as far as to shift the songwriting dynamic infrequently to include more riff-based tunes. The intro to “Mystic Portal II” is evidence enough of this change. What’s that? We were just treated to a near minute of Jake and Jamin playing together without hearing Jake’s vocals? I won’t say that’s a first for their music, but going off of principle, the opening to their classic “Diamond Way” is unchanging and relies on tension, not melody progression. Even in “Dark Energy”, Jake assimilates notes that sneak in a lot more melody than his usual sludgy, brick-like power chords.
With the addendum of this new batch of musical tools, hardcore JEFF fans may be worried about the future ahead. The Black Keys’ “I’ll Be Your Man” is a cool, gritty song. It’s bare bones and true to heart; no guff, no poppy, bullshit add-ons like “Gold On The Ceiling”, which is where that band stands today, clearly doomed to never return to their roots. We don’t want to watch JEFF lose touch with their roots, right? They stray from the unique only partially; most noticeably on the ballad-esque “Region Of Fire”, which ends by seeing you off with a longer-than-usual guitar solo. How they choose to replicate that song live may ruin it for you. Hopefully, Jake tracked over his rhythm in studio and is leaving it at that. The core of this band lies within the Orrall brothers. All of these saxophones and keyboards are absolutely appropriate for making an LP, but if you fear this Brotherhood becoming the size of an actual brotherhood, you’re not alone.
Another off-putting moment on the record occurs during the closer, a cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Changes”. It’s a cover alright, but what makes a cover inherently awesome if done right is that it deviates from the norm by giving new flare while adhering to the original’s framework. This take on “Changes” isn’t what you’d expect from these two, as it doesn’t contain a single guitar or drum kit component. Jake’s flanger-filtered vocals paired with a keyboard reminiscent of those used for the score to A Clockwork Orange give form to this cover, but it’s just as tame as the original and it doesn’t contain any new pizazz or new life. Apart from being an odd instrumental choice for the band, this song seems unnecessary to the rest of Hypnotic Nights.
All I can suggest to quell that notion is to cross your fingers in hopes that JEFF stays a duo at heart. It was so strange watching their recent performance on Late Night With David Letterman. They were accompanied by two women and an extra guitarist. That’s not the Brotherhood I know, but I like to think that it was for the sake of professional appearance only. Regardless of physical iteration, JEFF The Brotherhood has made yet another document of carefree immaturity drenched in fuzzy guitar licks and Jamin’s frantic, high-hat heavy drumming. Enjoy the latest output from the Orralls.