Some bands get big through the depth of their creativity. They have an ability to innovate by experimenting with all sorts of genres and sounds until – for a few songs or albums – the billions of buzzing bees are finally corralled for a honey harvest. (Think Animal Collective, Odd Future, Pink Floyd). The drawback with these acts, however, is their inconsistency, their penchant for handing you crème brûlée one moment and sour milk the next.
I argue that this approach is what creates advancement in music. All of the bands I mentioned in the last digression have done a lot to further their respective genres. These acts have their place, but there’s something pleasant about watching a band slowly work with a few ingredients until all of a sudden that Ragu-covered pasta they’ve been trying to pass off becomes a consistent, palate-pleasing linguine.
Enter JEFF the Brotherhood, who pulled off this change so subtly, you could confuse “Hypnotic Nights” for a competent debut, though its almost a decade in the making.
Thanks to a friend, I was clued in on the Nashville-based duo since before “We Are the Champions” and the strangely divisive one-song stand they had with Jack White and Insane Clown Posse. And, while I’ve seen their energetic live show a couple times (once headlining and once opening for The Kills), I was never quite sold on “J the B” until “Hypnotic Nights.”
With this album, the train was gathering steam and it seemed poised to make its next stop at Hipster Mainstream Station.
The persent, exact change was hard to pin down. At best, “Hypnotic Nights” could be described as sound of all the cylinders clicking, coming together in such a way that the nuance was finally allowed to percolate and rise above the formula.
And, JEFF the Brotherhood have a formula. The band likes Weezer-grade fuzzy guitars, Ramones-style malaise, Black Sabbath scuzz rock and girl group-era backing vocals – all pretty much in equal parts.
They sell it well, mostly because of the palpable chemistry between the brother singer/drummer duo (Jake and Jamin Orrall) behind the microphones. Sure, they look like extras in a Jeff Nichols movie, but the band plays in such a lockstep that they’re able to coax power out of the simplicity, even if they haven’t perfected a distinct personality or ethos – at least not yet anyway.
“It’s pretty hot out / It’s only 50 miles / I wanna cool out and get wasted,” singer, songwriter Jake Orrall waxes on the band’s coming out jam “Sixpack.”
This is as deep as the river gets, but it captures the magic of JEFF the Brotherhood. The water is shallow and enjoyable, and they like it that way so everyone is OK to get wet and wild. That’s the upside of not having raging waters or a deep end. Keeping out listeners is about as effective as having a party in a doorless house.
The formula doesn’t get much different on the album’s 11 tracks, even with the notable sonic flourishes, so if you like “Sixpack,” there’s a fair chance you’ll like most of the album. The songs are all essentially Weezer B-sides at heart, though there’s a stark difference between the more aggressive guitar melodies of “Dark Energy,” (perhaps the album’s best song), the Ravi Shankar-era Beatles-baiting “Reign of Fire” and the tongue-in-cheek album closer, a loose version of Black Sabbath’s “Changes.”
But is this the culmination of their change? Or is more in store? As long as there’s potential, it will be hard not to follow JEFF The Brotherhood with interest, especially when their songs are this tight.
Pete Rizzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.