Music News

The Blood Brothers

There is a well-worn piece of music theory that states, in sum, that all enduring compositions are constructed around a tonal center. Songs introduce a central pitch, the theory goes, and in returning to this pitch numerous times over the life of the song, the listener earns a release. It's the reason you feel elated at the end of "Purple Rain" and (to cross media) when tranquility is restored at the end of a really good episode of Law & Order.

In contrast, . . . Burn, Piano Island, Burn, the third record from Seattle chaos merchants the Blood Brothers, has no tonal center. It's a big, furious blast of pure fucking Armageddon that grinds and gallops and surges out of control. The record is all rhythm. It's not just Mark Gajadhar's tempest-on-a-Tama percussion that does the trick. The guitars fire like Uzis, quick, merciless, staccato blasts of sound that deafen on impact. This is how Zen Arcade sounded to people in 1984, a maelstrom of hot noise and wild-eyed, raw-throated yelping, the aural approximation of the Birthday Party having their tongues scissored off.

The only thing more jarring than the bedlam is the record's haphazard inclusion of melodic asides. There's a passage in "Every Breath Is a Bomb" where Cory Votolato, sounding mock-drunk, belts out a bleary-eyed bridge over a saloon piano. It's a tease, and a good one, thrown in to remind you of what you're missing: order, coherence and melody. It's probably no coincidence, then, that the words he sings are "You can't put the life back into this hospital ward."

Moments like this structurally and lyrically underscore the record's principal theme, namely the sickness and anarchy of Earth circa 2003. The Blood Brothers shove our noses in the awful mess we've made, forcing us to confront the skeletons and to join them in sadly singing "everything's going to be just awful." On ... Burn, Piano Island, Burn, the world doesn't end -- ever. It just keeps deteriorating, and each gunshot and hijacking and robbery pushes us further and further away from that holy tonal center. The picture the Blood Brothers paint may be ugly, but it's impossible to look away.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
J. Edward Eyes