In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Too often a band will emerge from retirement, only to horribly disappoint. Most acts will come back to life, plop out a stale record, play a few lackluster shows, and somewhere along the line, suck dry any remaining dignity they once had. The Blood Brothers are not most bands.
The Seattle five-piece is one of the few recent examples of a band reuniting and not blowing it all. The band had been largely inactive since shortly after the release of their 2006 album, Young Machetes. Then, nearly a decade later, they announced a short run of reunion shows and a couple of festival dates last year. They didn’t push any new material on fans, they didn’t half-ass their performances, they didn’t drag out the promise of a renewed future. They just got back on stage, tore it apart, and left it for the ages. It was a complete anomaly. So in that sense, it was totally fitting for them.
In their time, The Blood Brothers took their weirdo, eccentric style of hardcore and miraculously found critical success with it. After two igniter albums on spaz-punk staple 31G Records, they unleashed a blaze onto a major label for the release of 2003’s Burn, Piano Island, Burn. Everything about it literally screamed of cathartic outsider art—the screeching dual vocals of Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney, the macabre keyboards, the relentlessly destructive rhythm section. If it had come from any other band from their scene, it’d have been laughed back to the basements. But The Blood Brothers’ laser-tight precision made their organized chaos a hit.
These days, Blilie is working on a new record from his project Head Wound City. He had a blast doing the reunion gigs, and for that reason, is content to let the Brothers rest in peace. We talked to him about the band’s brief but prolific time together and asked him to rank the band’s five full-lengths.
5. March On Electric Children (2002)
Noisey: I believe you’ve cited this as a concept album?
Jordan Blilie: [Sighs] Yeah. Thank you for that. [Laughs] Lyrically, Johnny and I did try to tie all the songs together with this narrative arc and I think—he would probably say the same thing—we went a little too deep into our own heads with that. The basic gist of what we were going for was just to look at the manipulative, corrupting power of mass media and all the shallow, vapid messages that we’re bombarded with every day and the psychological damage that can inflict on a person.
And this was post-9/11 too, did that have an effect on it?
Yeah, but that being said, you’d be hard pressed to find that in there. It’s pretty dense and it’s pretty weird. There’s a lot of weirdo ocean imagery. Johnny was taking an oceanography class at the time. But musically, I do think there are some great moments. But overall, I’d say it’s a little too disjointed. And that’s saying a lot because disjointed was kind of our thing.
4. This Adultery Is Ripe (2000)
This was your debut album. A lot of bands often don’t have pleasant things to say about their debuts retrospectively. How do you feel about your first record?
I have a soft spot for it. The bulk of these songs we wrote when we were in high school. When I listen to it, I think that like a lot of young bands that are starting to get their footing, you can hear our influences there.
Which were what?
A lot of Swing Kids, Rye Coalition, Monorchid, Drive Like Jehu. The other thing that makes it absolutely painful to listen to was how slow we played the songs compared to how we played them live. When we were deciding on which songs we were gonna do for these reunion shows, we listened through all of our records together and this one was like, unbearable. [Laughs] It was just so slow.
But it does seem like you had the foundations of the band immediately—the dual vocals, of course. How did that come about, actually?
Very simple answer. There was a band from Seattle when we were teenagers called " target="_blank">Area 51 and they’re an amazing punk band. Just mind-blowing. And they had one girl singer and one guy singer. All of their members went on to be in Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Spencer was the male singer and Andrea from Pretty Girls was the female singer. So we heard that and we heard that and were like, “Um yeah. We want to be in a band with two singers.” Easy peasy.
No discredit to you, but it is so amazing that you guys got the critical acclaim that you did. There were some bands like you in the underground hardcore scene but then to see it accepted culturally was always crazy to me.
And I told myself that innumerable times. It kind of blew my mind as well. I don’t have an answer for it. The only thing I can say is that I was always proud of the amount of work we put into it. So I felt as if we could back it up with how we played. I don’t want that to sound arrogant at all because it’s not me playing, it’s just me screaming. [Laughs]
3. Young Machetes (2006)
This was your last one. Are you happy with the way you guys went out?
Yeah. I was. With this one, it reminds me of—did you ever play Oregon Trail?
Yes, you have dysentery!
Yeah! So you know how if you were feeling super masochistic, you’d set it to meager rations/grueling pace? This to me was the very end. We’d done four full-lengths in five years. And it was meager rations/grueling pace. When we weren’t writing, we were either practicing or on tour. We would just bang records out one after the other. And this was the one where I feel it starts to get a little shaky. I don’t think the wheels completely fell off but we could sense that it was coming to an end. It has some of my favorite Blood Brothers songs on there. “Set Fire” is one of my all-time favorites. Johnny and I were talking about this song and he said it contained everything our band was about in a single song and I have to agree with him.
I think this album has the most memorable artwork. Who did it?
Oh thank you. It was a really good friend of mine, Eric Luken. He had all these magazines where he would draw over all the faces in this really frightening manner. I was like, “I love that, can you do that for our record?” The funny thing is that it’s my wife on the cover. Since what he’d done was primarily over magazines, we couldn’t get the clearance because our label was rightfully freaked out that whoever it was he drew over would recognize themselves.
2. ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn (2003)
This was the one that seemed to get you more recognition, and the first not on 31G.
Yeah, this was a pretty major turning point for us. We all quit our jobs and dropped out of school and signed to a major label. It was the early 2000s so signing to a major label was a death warrant for a band and especially in the very, very small scene we came from. It just didn’t happen. No one did it. It was unheard of. And if you did, you were almost universally ridiculed and your major label debut almost universally sucked. [Laughs] So the thing that I’m really proud of with this one was how seriously we took the opportunity. We just holed up in our practice space. We practiced five days a week for about two months straight.
It’s a pretty brutal record. It’s pretty insane. Pretty relentless. You don’t put it on when you want to relax. I think to a lot of people, it’s their favorite Blood Brothers record. The other thought that comes to mind is how young we were when we made it.
Which was how young?
I was 20 and Cody I think was 18 or 19. Morgan was a stately 22.
Are you glad you did it with a major?
Yeah, we were super frustrated at the time it came out because the major label we were on fell apart. We put all this work into it and the record had just come out and the label fell apart and we were left feeling high and dry. But we were able to get out of it and go to another label. I don’t have any regrets having made that decision. And I think we put out a good record. I don’t feel as if the music was in any way compromised. I think you’d be crazy to listen to that record and say, “Yeah this band really compromised on their major label debut."
1. Crimes (2004)
Why’s this one your personal favorite?
It’s the most consistent and I love how direct it is. I love how stripped down it is. We were coming off of doing Burn. The songwriting on Burn was veering into some dangerous prog territory. I think if we had gone any further in that direction, we would’ve stepped into kind of a dork realm. So what we did instead was we went the opposite direction on Crimes. We wanted to strip everything down. We wanted to get out of our heads a little but and write primarily from feel and not overthink things as much as we’d done in the past. The songs that we put together on this one are some of my favorite. “Trash Flavored Trash,” “Feed Me to the Forest,” that’s actually one of my favorite Blood Brothers songs.
There were definitely some new tricks in your repertoire. Maybe a bit more keyboards too.
There were. I think more than anything, we embraced the feel and rhythm and—this is a word that’s almost a cringeworthy, but I feel it applies—groove. I think that me and Johnny settled into some very distinct vocal characteristics. Johnny pushed himself into higher territory while I took a lower register and so you have two very different characteristics and we were trying to sing more than we had in the past. I think our voices complimented one another.
Lyrically, it’s probably the stuff I’m most proud of. I think we struck a balance between the super abstract we’ve done before with some more very concrete, direct language. I think we did a good job at making a political record that didn’t beat the listener over the head with sloganeering.
What did you want to get across with it?
This was 2003 we were working on it. So we were right in the middle of Bush Two, Iraq war hysteria. I think we were trying to capture that psychological fear and terror and paranoia and violence of wartime. It was pretty much all we were seeing. You couldn’t turn anywhere without being inundated with it. For me, writing political lyrics is tough. You can make it too vague with “us versus them” to the point where it says nothing. But you can also swing to the opposite where it sounds like you’re reading from a pamphlet.
I’ve always found the ending of this album interesting. It sounds almost like a Native American war chant.
There was some stuff we did spontaneously in the studio and that was one of them. If I remember correctly, that was one that completely came together in the studio. And I think “Crimes” the song, we wrote completely in the studio. That might be my favorite Blood Brothers song. I just have a really great association with writing it. I like that there’s no screaming. [Laughs]
This is Dan Ozzi's order as well. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi