Say What?

Washington City Paper | November 3, 2006
Whether or not to become intelligible can be one of the riskiest decisions of a rock band’s career. Many a young frontman has shattered his nascent mystique by pulling back the veil of mumbles to reveal stinker lyrics and poorly calculated earnestness. But those elocution lessons can also bring great rewards in the form of increased accessibility and more articulate, interesting music. For the Blood Brothers, who built a career on the spazzed-out shrieking of dual vocalists Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie, the decision of whether to make their co-screamers understood must have been met with more than a little trepidation. Luckily, on Young Machetes, the Seattle screamo band has found two workable solutions to help maintain their inscrutability. First, just because people can understand what you’re saying doesn’t mean that they should be able to make any sense of it. When the going gets smooth, the Blood Brothers get obtuse, adding interest to the albums’ most restrained moments with bursts of non sequitur that rival the nonsensical stylings of neo-proggers like the Mars Volta. “Let’s sling our rain sticks over February’s fantastic antlers/Sprouting from the foreheads of world-famous necromancers,” yelps one of the singers on the uncharacteristically strutty “1, 2, 3, 4 Guitars.” Glammy album closer “Giant Swan” takes a similar approach, opening with the gently crooned couplet, “The giant swan’s got ghosts in his wings/His guts are stuffed with Polaroids.” A shield of self-referential nonsense can only get a band so far, however. It’s the delivery that makes the difference, and that’s where the Blood Brothers employ their second winning strategy. On Young Machetes, the band hired as a producer the father of emo himself, Guy Picciotto, to help them wring the greatest amount of heart-rending intensity from each baffling line. Whether it was either party’s intention or not, this seems to be accomplished through Blilie and Whitney copping the ex–Fugazi frontman’s best moves. These include the creepy whisper (“We Ride Skeletal Lightning”), the punk-rock backup holler (“Vital Beach”), the elongated vowel (“Rat Rider”), and countless other distinctive Picciotto tricks. Thanks to him, the record’s adrenaline-pumping mega-riffs are effectively propped up by vocals that no longer rely on screamo theatrics to keep fists in the air. Now more angry youngsters than ever before will be able to understand what the Blood Brothers have to say—which according to the lyrics sheet, may not be much.

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