Tuning Up: Why Does Everyone Hate My Favorite Band?
A solemn lamentation for the genius of an underappreciated Seattle quintet that is no more.
Raise your hand: How many of you have a band you absolutely, flat-out friggin’ love, nay—adore—but basically no one you play them for gets it? I’m not talking, like, you hit play and after a minute or two your friend goes, “Eh, I’m not digging it.” Everyone likes stuff that makes a few friends go, “Boooooring!” or “Shit man, that’s some cheesy-ass stuff,” or “Nah—that’s way too heavy.”
I’m talking about something on a whole other level. I’m talking you hit play and, within seconds, violent, involuntary grimaces of disgust erupt from even the most diplomatic of listeners. Not just garden-variety disgust, either. Like—particularly if it’s a loved one you’ve shared this prized tunage with—they’re furrowing their brow and giving you that Are you okay—should I call for help? look.
I experienced the latter from my little sis’ Stephanie when I recently went home to visit family. She and her lovely teenage daughter hopped in the car I’d borrowed to run and grab a bite to eat, and my phone randomly started streaming the Blood Brothers’ “Laser Life” through the stereo. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I noted with glee the horror on her face.
I’m used to this sort of reaction, though. For 16 years now it’s the same basic one I’ve been getting from 99 percent of the people I attempt to enlighten with a listen to this sadly defunct quintet that’s still one of my favorite bands. I can’t count how many times my wife has given me the Don’t even think about leaving it glare when a song from one of their six albums comes on at home or on a drive.
I’ll admit it took me a bit to warm up to the Seattle outfit, too. I was asked to interview bassist Morgan Henderson for the release of 2003’s …Burn, Piano Island, Burn, and though I’d never heard of the band I immediately dug their bombastic, math-y post-hardcore aesthetic … everything, that is, except for the vocals. I believe my subsequent write-up described the twin-mic attack of Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie as “dueling Yosemite Sam’s on crack.”
I may never have gotten over the adrenaline-fueled shrieking if it weren’t for the fascinating instrumental interplay. Henderson’s throbbing, airtight bass lines. Cody Votolato’s stark, naked, explosively angular guitar work. Mark Gajadhar’s thundering drum work.
But mere words don’t do any of it justice. These adjectives and adverbs have been used for innumerable bands that don’t hold a candle to the Blood Brothers. I’m not saying they’re the best ever or anything—that’s a ridiculous concept. But I am saying that, if you appreciate nonstandard song structures, have some sorta prog-y tendencies (but hate the pukey preciousness and wanker pretenses of the usual suspects)—and also love the wild abandon of great punk and hardcore—then you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.
Even that doesn’t cover it, though. Because beyond the flying spittle, bloody lips, and flailing, sweat-soaked limbs bashing away at instruments, underneath the avant-horror-film-inspired lyrics, there’s a fascinating, exceptionally unique undercurrent of urban exotica mixed with experimental treatments and random references to leftfield genres such as Vaudeville and dance-punk. None of it sounds canned or stolen—it all sounds 100 percent Blood Brothers. And even though the racket can feel overwhelming to the lighthearted, there are also laidback, nuanced interludes that reveal a level of creativity and creative willingness that few bands ever consider, let alone dare to explore.
The saddest part—apart from the fact that my evangelizing efforts over the years have only resulted in a select few (including my sons, thankfully!) becoming Blood Brothers faithful—is that Votolato and company haven’t put out an album since 2006’s Young Machetes. They broke up in 2007, and though they’ve done a few reunion shows, and the individual members continue with various musical projects—including Votolato and Blilie’s riveting work in Head Wound City with Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of the Locust—none of it has quite that magical mélange of the original. I love and miss you, Blood Brothers! Please come back to us someday!