The Blood Brothers
locking in at a svelte 39 minutes, The Blood Brothers third full-length Crimes packs just as many ideas, sounds and punch as its cousin, last year’s Burn Piano Island, Burn. What it doesn’t contain, however, is the dazzling array of hooks that grounded that release’s constantly searching experimentation and hardcore freak-outs. Instead, Crimes is a much more measured beast of a record, one that loses none of the young band’s energy, but misses the sing-a-longs, fist-pumps and sheer exultant moments of its predecessor.
Which isn’t to say that Crimes is a bad record. Because it isn’t. It’s just that Burn Piano Island, Burn was something approaching a masterpiece and Crimes doesn’t live up to its lofty standard. Taken on its own terms, however, Crimes works well as an album that takes listeners further from the group’s screamo roots into an unknown post-hardcore territory. It’s a journey that the group is taking alone, apparently, in this case utilizing elements of dance music (“Teen Heat”), production from the Broken Social Scene playbook (“Crimes”) and throwbacks to their past (“Beautiful Horses”). It’s a mélange that sounds like it has no business being on the same album together, but one that nonetheless works.
And that’s the secret to the group’s success: continuing to stretch the boundaries of what the group is, while maintaining an identifiable sound. That identifiable sound is helped immensely, of course, by the ever-distinctive vocals of Jordan Billie and Johnny Whitney. They’re both in top form here, adding their high-low mix to all of the album’s thirteen tracks, moving from octave to octave easily. As always, they’re an acquired taste, but once you become acclimated, it becomes clear that they’re essential components in making the moments when the band is playing something normal (the whole of “Celebrator”) into something far more special.
At the same time, the vocalists are able to tone it down, so to speak, when the band is churning out complicated mathy riffs or breathtaking drum fills, allowing the listener to truly appreciate the complexity of some of the songs here, “Rats and Rats and Rats for Candy” being a prime example.
Perhaps the thing to note about Crimes more than anything else, though, is the further slowing down and maturation of (some of) the music. The Blood Brothers began as a slightly generic post-hardcore band with quirky singers. With Burn Piano Island, Burn, they no doubt alienated some of their fan base by turning up the melodicism and reducing the chances for fans to properly engage with one another in the pit. That trend continues here, with tracks like “Crimes”, “Live at the Apocalypse Cabaret”, “Wolf Party” and “Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck”. Subtle and commanding each in their own right, they offer little to get excited about for most traditional hardcore fans.
But, then again, The Blood Brothers have never been about appeasing or creating music for traditional hardcore fans. Instead, for the past few years, the group has been one of the most forward-looking and exciting bands to emerge from this underground, unafraid to take chances and to sound different from their contemporaries. This time around they seem to be consolidating those differences rather than exuberantly flouting them, but Crimes is nonetheless a strong document of post-hardcore experimentation.