[1 August 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Southern Rock seems to be undergoing a bit of a Renaissance lately. You can look to bands such as Baroness, which was originally based out of Savannah, Georgia, who, with Yellow & Green have delivered one of the year’s most head noddingly delightful hard rock albums. However, if you trek just a little bit north, but stay well below the Mason-Dixon line, you might find yourself in Nashville. While Nashville might be better known as being a country music town, there has been some interesting rock-based music emanating from there for some time now, but is only just getting noticed by mainstream papers such as the UK’s The Guardian. There are a group of young musicians in Nashville who share an affinity for ‘60s psychedelica and garage along with ‘70s punk, and are largely centered around the Infinity Cat label. Heck, even Jack White has gotten in on the action by establishing a combination record store, performance venue and headquarters for his Third Man Records label in Nashville in 2009.
Well, leading the fray of acts from the area is a two-piece outfit featuring brothers Jamin and Jake Orrall – the sons of successful country and rock producer/singer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall – called Jeff the Brotherhood (sometimes stylized as JEFF the Brotherhood) who have been active since 2001 and are now releasing their seventh LP, Hypnotic Nights, and first for major label Warner Bros. They, too, had albums released on both Infinity Cat and Third Man – the group even contributed earlier this year to Insane Clown Posse’s single for Third Man, “Leck mich im Arsch”, a reportedly rather bizarre rearrangement of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composition produced by White himself. So, effectively, Jeff the Brotherhood is a group on a rather upwards trajectory. They might be the first Nashville rock band of the current crop to sign to a major, but, based on the activity of bands such as Pujol, the Ettes, the Paperhead and the Sufis, it would be easy to predict that they might not be the last.
Now, Jeff the Brotherhood typically get compared to as sounding like a shotgun marriage between Weezer and the Ramones, and Hypnotic Nights is going to do absolutely nothing to quell those comparisons – in fact, the album will only likely strengthen them. What’s more, Hypnotic Nights is a record that is looking for a good time to happen. Its opening two songs – “Country Life” and “Sixpack” – are essentially about the fun and exhilaration that the summer brings. However, the fun that the Orrall brothers are looking for are generally pure: the album even opens with the line “I want a place where I can smoke” – wait for it – “meats”. Yes, folks, “meats” and not “weed”. So Hypnotic Nights tends to position itself as the perfect soundtrack for your next backyard barbeque, though by the time the duo gets to “Sixpack”, they do admit “I wanna cool out / And get wasted.”
And, effectively, while much of the whole album sufficiently rocks the garage in all sort of enjoyable ways, the album’s strongest moments come with that one-two punch of “Country Life” and “Sixpack”: both songs hover around the 2:30 mark, making them the record’s shortest and punchiest songs, and most akin to punk rock. However, producer Dan Auerbach (frontman for the Black Keys) adds some interesting touches: “Country Life” features a skonky saxamaphone, which gives the track a bit of a Bowie-like glammy flourish. And vibes open up “Mystic Portal II”, giving it a bit of a jazzy feel – at least, until those guitars stuck in a deep fryer and battered in grease kick in at warp speed. Elsewhere, you’ll hear a sitar on, again, “Mystic Portal II”, giving the disc a bit of a spiritual influence, which would be a natural thing to do when you not only include the word “hypnotic” in the album title, but two of the LP’s songs as well: “Hypnotic Mind” and “Hypnotic Winter”.
While much of Hypnotic Nights will have you wanting to raise a plastic cup of beer in the air and say, “Yeah!”, there are a few missteps. None is more egregious than the band’s cover of Black Sabbath’s piano ballad “Changes”, which is rendered here as a dark synth pop ditty complete with gospel vocals. It is, in short, interesting, but overall feels like a half-baked experiment, and its position as the album’s closer will give you a bit of a bummer when you should be experiencing an uplift. Similarly, “Region of Fire” is another track that falls short of the mark – it feels like something the brothers Kirkwood would write, nevermind the similarities to the title of “Lake of Fire” – and feels a touch out of place here. However, Hypnotic Nights is a raucous, enjoyable fare of summertime fluff despite these stumbles. The Orrall brothers frequently set the guitars to stun, and you can just stand up and be captivated by the large majority of the record in a “let’s just rock out” kind of manner.
Hypnotic Nights has the whiff of a band whose powers may be further consolidated in a live setting, but you can go a few steps further: while the sound of Nashville has been traditional one of crying in your beer, Jeff the Brotherhood prove that there’s nothing wrong with being from Country Music City USA and downing as many beers in rapid succession as possible. In that sense, Jeff the Brotherhood are masters of reinvention, and you can only wonder how much more scuzzier their craft will become on further major label releases, while honing it as close as possible to honest good times rock ‘n’ roll. Because what the world really needs is more music that you can cook ribs to. Yum!