Music

Jeff the Brotherhood: Hypnotic Nights

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.


Jeff the Brotherhood

Hypnotic Nights

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2012-07-17
UK Release Date: 2012-07-17
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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!

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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