With Young Machetes, the Blood Brothers may have officially proved that album after album, they will consistently bring challenging, innovative thoughts to the table that actually come out on the other end as awfully tight, intense and enjoyable songs.
What this tends to mean is hyperactive, jagged, noisy fits of chaos that are yet always under the band's control. None proved it further than 2004's Crimes, which simultaneously featured some of the band's most ambitious and accessible songs (i.e. "Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck). It's quite an amazing thought that the band had to tone it down from 2003's Burn, Piano Island, Burn simply after realizing that that album's songs were so complex, they were challenging to the band to play them live. Thus you have Crime's restraint and more simple yet greatly effective songwriting. However, some sort of nostalgic tick must have burrowed beneath the band's collective skin, because Young Machetes contains some of the Blood Brothers' most downright intense and complex moments in their career -- even more so than Burn.
First, however, this intensity is conveyed in mid-tempo, caterwaul car crashes, like opener "Set Fire to Face on Fire." The Blood Brothers have always been that rare band that could repeat the song title -- or at least, a noticeable portion of it -- ad nauseam and avoid it sounding even remotely cheesy ("Burn, Piano Island, Burn," "USA Nails," "Crimes"), and they take full advantage of that smug swagger here as well as tracks like "Camouflage, Camouflage," "Vital Beach," "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds," "Rat Rider," and "Huge Gold AK-47." Perhaps this is due to their absolutely fierce, unrelenting intensity -- the band has always been aggressive in a spastic manner, and that's part of what keeps them far, far from any chance of being filed under a straight hardcore punk heading.
We're already getting off track here. In "Fire," multiple guitar tracks collide and tear forth, while Mark Gajadhar sounds like he's preparing for his own increasing explosion on the percussion. The noticeably darker tone continues on "We Ride Skeletal Lightning," charged by Johnny Whitney's high-pitched wail and a spectacularly mindblowing tempo change in its last minute. Whitney's intention in the last several years was to challenge himself vocally, and on Machetes, it definitely shows. His would be particularly alienating to the untrained ear on the first single, the bouncy "Lazer Life," and he actually manages to match the manic quality of the cabaret-like piano that's turned up in the sudden spasm towards the end. It's an absolutely wonderful, compelling song overall though, and offers a welcome alteration in the mood.
The restraint of Crimes certainly comes into play a few times, but it's easy to embrace as a breather is often needed. "Camouflage, Camouflage" is stretched out to nearly 5 minutes but in a fine fashion with its latter section slowing down ever so attentively. Before "1, 2, 3, 4 Guitars" launches into its closing frenzy it's dependent upon a slower, more methodical base. "Street Wars, Exotic Foxholes" is a good and solid, light 5:31 stomp.
The fourth fifth of the album is really where things become an absolute barrage of harsh audio. The band finds an energy like no other, capturing their youthful exuberance and yet beating it with instrument tracks that seem to race each other through the durations of "Nausea Shreds Yr Head" and "Rat Rider." It's as if the apocalypse is rapidly approaching and the band is playing to beat it. However, earlier on there's a few numbing fits of interlacing screams; "You're the Dream Unicorn" finds Whitney and Jordan Blilie trading off rapid, spitfire lines in the chorus, backed by pounding drums and guitars played by wrists that could only belong to androids.
Lyrically, it felt as though Crimes was still abstract, but that time around, carefully so. That type of mindset carries itself on Machetes, making cautious, deliberate mockeries of some of society's more questionable practices: redundancy, excessiveness, indulgent industrialization, and corporate ladder climbing ambition, and nearly always through metaphorical, random scenarios strewn together to the point of both humor ("Still the seagulls mutter, 'What'cha doing with your life?'") and inconceivability ("My spine's a limousine that drives all night but never goes anywhere").
The Blood Brothers' Young Machetes is the band's longest album at just over 50 minutes, but they're smart to have waited this long to hit that eclipse -- they're strong enough to write 15 songs that command the listener's attention for nearly every second. Unlike this review, it's long, but not longwinded. Only getting more and more cynical with age, certainly as time goes by there is absolutely no compromising their songwriting and quest for complex, arty conveyances of societal frustration. Few other acts can pull in some of their early career traits that were so desirable to begin with and fully avoid making it sound like rehashing, but with Young Machetes this and more is accomplished. No question, one of the band's top efforts and one of the year's best overall; highly recommended.