[3 August 2011]
For a couple of dudes who most likely don’t spend many of their waking hours without a cold beer or something to smoke nearby, brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall have pretty good heads for business. The bros, sons of Nashville song doctor Robert Ellis Orrall, founded Infinity Cat Recordings while they were still in high school and have been not-so-quietly self-releasing music under the JEFF the Brotherhood moniker for nearly a decade. With Jamin behind the drum kit and Jake singing and strangling a three-string guitar, the brothers’ early recordings were packed with punked up psychedelic jams, many of which stretched past the ten-minute mark. For their latest album, the boldly titled We Are the Champions, the Orralls have set the bong aside long enough to ink a distribution deal with Warner Music Group in hopes of taking the Brotherhood out of their garage and into ours.
Initially We Are the Champions sounds like business as usual. “Hey Friend” opens the album with a blast of air horn followed by a minute and a half of lumbering drums and bluesy shredding. Halfway through the song the drums unexpectedly cut out and Jake steps to the mic to sing, “I’ve been thinking about your mom / You can tell me if it’s really wrong”. By the time the drums strike up again, JEFF the Brotherhood doesn’t sound like a garage band anymore. It sounds like Weezer.
If the Orralls were fans of golden-era Weezer before Champions, I’m thinking they aren’t anymore. Not if they read their own press, anyway. Unfortunately it’s simply not possible to hear a ridiculously catchy track like “Bummer”, with its chugging beat, self-deprecating lyrics, and “whoa-oh-whoa"s and not begrudgingly think of Rivers Cuomo. The hook-heavy songs that stray the farthest from the original Brotherhood blueprint, while likely to turn off the diehard fans, are what finally set the band apart from your average garage rock duo. On the organ-laced ballad “Endless Fire”, the Brotherhood master gorgeous harmonies like some sort of garbage-heap version of the Beatles. Elsewhere, the bouncy “Diamond Way” channels early ‘80s Cure before exploding into the sort of ferocious chorus that will have Dinosaur Jr. fans nodding in approval.
It’s not like the brothers have completely abandoned their off-the-cuff approach now that they’re flirting with a major label. They’re still perfectly content hitting the record button and blasting out deliciously disposable punk songs about going out, drinking too much, not wanting to go out, and not wanting to drink too much. Oh, and girls, of course. The album is full of blazing, breakneck songs like “Shredder” and “Mellow Out”, which take care of business in three minutes or less. It’s easy to compare some of these tracks to the Ramones, as Jake’s voice often sounds eerily similar to Joey Ramone’s cracked croon. This Brotherhood has a far more diverse palate, however, frequently expanding beyond the guitar-and-drum setup. The brothers always keep us (and themselves) entertained, adding questionably played sitar to the rumbling “Wastoid Girl” and bringing “Cool Out” to a hilariously unexpected heavy metal climax. Only the trippy Eastern music experiment “Health and Strength” and the plodding stoner jam “Ripper” fail to impress.
Maturity might be a dirty word to the Orralls, but on We Are the Champions they appear to be facing up to the fact that you can’t stay in the garage forever. While their DIY ethic is still firmly intact, they’ve started to evolve gracefully into pop craftsmen. A Brotherhood rock opera might still be a few years off, but a fast and furious album like We Are the Champions every couple of years should be more than enough to keep the fires blazing.