The Blood Brothers
Burn, Piano Island, Burn
ast week, I was reading my third Bob Dylan biography when I finally got to my favorite part of any summation of the man’s career, the electric fallout; the time in 1965 when he first went public with his surreal, literate, and elliptical amped-up blues raves. Even today, it’s probably the greatest example of an artist putting into question everything we believe (or are told to believe) about music. The folkies decried his “abandonment” of their movement, and chastised him with a vitriolic fury that bordered on possession. Although they blindly acknowledged the ridiculous conventions and rules of this movement, they stood aghast when Dylan broke free from its suffocating confines. But when he did, he came out swinging with albums like Highway 61 Revisited, and songs like “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, some of the best and most exciting music ever laid to tape. As I was pondering this, the Blood Brothers’ Burn, Piano Island, Burn spat out the ideal soundtrack. The album is a tornado of sound that sucks up everything it knows and hurls it back into our faces. Its unflinching power reverberates with the pang of aural nihilism. Nothing is sacred to this album, it builds its own monuments that will draw everyone-- from the hardcore purists that frighteningly mirror the aforementioned folkies, to the curious mall punks, to the pretentious undergrads-- to their feet.
Although last year’s awe inspiring March On, Electric Children showed the band weaving a boldly inventive tapestry that made tape manipulations, sampling, Broadway piano, and throat curdling screams shared between two brats both fun and catchy, it’s Burn, Piano Island, Burn that completes their vision. With Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot, At The Drive-In) at the helm, the band shatters conceptions before a note is even played. What may strike some as a naive grab for mainstream acceptance is in fact a stroke of genius. Even the best hardcore music is often muddied by thin, vague production, but on Burn, Piano Island, Burn, every guitar slashes with unfettered insistency, every kick drum thud drives deeper into your stomach, and every glockenspiel ping eases effortlessly into the chaos. Although Robinson deserves his share of the accolades, this is the Blood Brothers’ show, and it’s a fucked up cabaret that teems with shock, horror, dread, wonder, and glee.
Burn, Piano Island, Burn is an album that must first be listened to twice: once to wrap your head around its peerless vigor and skull-rattling force, and again to revel in its restless creativity. “Every Breath is a Bomb” opens with an ambient clutter that gives way to unschooled yelping over a sinister keyboard and errant drum hits. Within seconds it stutters its way into a samba breakdown and reggae strut before galloping to a repeat. “The Salesman, Denver Max”, with its acoustic crooning and startling dime-turns engages your head as much as it does your fist. And god, that’s just the beginning. I could spend this whole review reeling off these little tidbits, and yet, no matter how much I try to dissect this album, I just end up going back to it amazed by the brave fury it exudes from every pore.
“Guitarmy” opens the record with 37 seconds of fist-pumping angst that typify the band’s delivery. The song crashes in and dashes out with Lightning Bolt-ish charges of skittery fury that sandwich chanting squalls that call the Brothers to action: “This party’s dying so guitar-me!” Before you can catch your breath, they’re knee-deep in “Fucking’s Greatest Hits” If you’re down, you’re pulled in with them; if you’re repelled, you’d better leave quickly, because from there on Burn, Piano Island, Burn doesn’t turn back. It’s a testament to the group’s precocious ingenuity that, with the exception of the mindlessly chugging “God Bless You, Bloodthirsty Zeppelins” (the lone example of what many feared this disc would reduce to,) no one song on the record becomes indistinguishable from another-- a truly remarkable feat, considering the scream-over-restless-rhythms M.O. that the band loosely, yet consistently, employs. On the ravaged title track, dueling vocalists Jordan Billie and Johnny Whitney unravel their twisted poetry with giddy abandon, screaming the album’s name like a destructionist call to arms. Songs like “USA Nails” and “Ambulance vs. Ambulance” flex the band’s theatrical muscle with disarming aplomb. Alternately funny, touching, and horrifying, the lyrical content of this album has the potential to be as divisive as Dylan’s itself, but the power and conviction with which it is delivered levels any barriers. “The Ambluance Angels notify your next of kin and show them the scrapbook of your operation. His head was a faucet leaking love, laughter, and lies: all his secret wishes, all his world-famous sighs. But before you roll over, before you give in, just know we’re coming back for your children,” goes one breathtaking dispatch that can weaken your knees before the band even blows in.
“Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon” and “Six Nightmares at the Pinball Masquerade” signal the album’s hair-curling apogee with thunderous groans and pummeling precision. Although the album’s latter recesses see a drained wane, “The Shame” ends the proceedings with a chilling grace. With the tempo slowed to a slinking pace, Billie and Whitney stutter out their swan song until its looming tranquility is therapeutically ripped to shreds before being sewn back together with trembling hands. It all sounds heavy-- and it can be-- but part of the beauty of Burn, Piano Island, Burn is that it can alternately be listened to as a blisteringly heavy rock album, thrillingly engrossing concept-punk, or both. It’s a record that liberates your mind and sets a new bar for hard rock. Who knows if anyone else will grasp for it, but, then again, who knows if anyone else could reach?
Reviewed by: Colin McElligatt
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01