Though they were best known for the breakneck tempos and blisteringly heavy riffs of their first three albums, by the end of their tenure, Seattle glam-core heroes the Blood Brothers were penning songs that were longer, more restrained and more deliberately paced. It should come as no surprise, then, that Past Lives, which is essentially the original Blood Brothers lineup minus helium-sucking vocalist Johnny Whitney, continue to push in that same direction. Just as Whitney and Cody Votolato’s new act Jaguar Love redeploys the Brothers’ glam chops in the service of dance music, Past Lives finds the Blood Brothers’ legendary rhythm section backing up measured, understated indie-rock songs.
Bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar continue to captivate here. Their fearsome grooves lay the foundation for Past Lives’ debut LP, Tapestry of Webs. With a nod to first wave post-punk and the dub/reggae tradition that influenced it, all 12 of the songs here lumber rather than sprint, allowing tension to build steadily but rarely offering a release. Vocalist Jordan Blilie’s restraint is perhaps the most notable here. Eschewing the throat-shredding screams for which he is known, Blilie adopts a low, warbly croon that’s a bit reminiscent of Conor Oberst. Even when things get heated, Blilie scarcely raises his voice, preferring to keep his teeth firmly clenched and his rage bottled up.
Structurally, the songs on Tapestry of Webs are far less restless than you might expect, though the band still manages to leave plenty of room for experimentation. The itinerant, multi-part “K Hole” is a clear highlight, incorporating a buzzing guitar drone, violins and a campy keyboard line. “Hex Takes Hold” splits the difference between garage rock and funk and closes with a jangly, surf rock-indebted guitar line. “At Rest”, a jazzy, two minute-long instrumental moored by a steadily ticking drum machine, is both the most adventurous track on the album and one of the best.
While there’s no denying that Tapestry of Webs sounds like the work of accomplished, seasoned musicians, it’s occasionally a bit too unassuming for its own good. Some of the more sluggish tracks can drag, though to the band’s credit, the tracklist is sequenced in a manner that largely prevents the album from slipping into background music territory. Nonetheless, the band sounds both tight and spontaneous on these tracks, most of which showcase the members’ strong rapport and considerable technical skill. Sure, only a faint whiff of the Blood Brothers’ vitality, intensity and verve remains here, but that’s to be expected. Maturity, after all, has its price.
// Notes from the Road
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