If it looks like a side project and sounds like a side project, then it probably is (A) self indulgent and amorphous, (B) fodder for the diehards, (C) a slight redirection, and (D) a spellbinding departure. When in doubt, always follow your gut. So that’s what Johnny Whitney and Mark Gajadhar of Seattle’s pulverizing noise team, Blood Brothers, have done here with their extracurricular activity, Neon Blonde. The venture is no revelation, but they are loath to play it safe or take it easy. With less emphasis on guitars, the duo manages to sustain a comparable intensity as they continue in the Blood Brothers’ tradition of show-stopping histrionics.
Chandeliers in the Savannah doesn’t sound that different from ‘04s Crimes, and for fans of the band, that can’t be a bad thing. For the uninitiated, this may be the perfect backdoor invitation to the psychotic and entrancing Blood Brothers. Whitney’s signature high-pitched howl and Gajadhar’s chop drumming make clear that this is a brotherly affair. The songwriting is similarly jagged, although it tends to favor Blood Brothers’s more melodramatic inflections. Neon Blonde follows up on the trajectory established on such tunes as “Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck” or “Live at the Apocalypse Cabaret”, while adding more electronica and keys to the mix. The hooks that are so buried under the dissonance of Blood Brothers are allowed more room to slink here, which makes for a more overtly melodic experience.
In place of the vocal battling of Whitney and Jordan Blilie, Chandeliers in the Savannah features a more cooing and sensual vocal aesthetic. I’ve always been partial to Whitney’s yelp rather than Blilie’s snarl, but never thought it could sustain an entire album. With diverse songs like “Wings Made out of Noise” and “Love Hounds”, this album emphatically rejects that theory. The delivery is no less fiery than anything else Whitney has performed, and the sustainability of those performances are testament to his ball-shattering range. It helps, too, that he brings with him the same madcap lyrical bent that so entrench Blood Brothers into one’s consciousness.
Without as much of a focus on scraping guitar, Neon Blonde is generally a more listenable band than Blood Brothers. The keys, along with the coarse electronic effects, compliment and spotlight Whitney’s songwriting to great effect. It’s too bad he and Gajadhar didn’t go further with this experiment and allow the latent paranoia of the quiet parts to further counterpoint all the pounding and howling.
The most affecting songs on Chandeliers in the Savannah, “Headlines” and “Chandeliers and Vines” excel, thanks to the dynamics established by Neon Blonde’s lease on exposed spaces. Every track isn’t made to brim and sheen. There are holes in the songs that let the performances, and the listener, breathe - a luxury not often afforded by exhausting Blood Brothers records.