Manic Obsessives

The Blood Brothers careen back toward their whiplash punk past

"It's this weird thing that happens. Every time we try to do something with a goal in mind, it comes down to not knowing why." As the Blood Brothers' guitar player, Cody Votolato, is clearly demonstrating via cellphone from a tour stop in New Jersey, it's damn hard to explain what goes into writing a song. The evidence lies in the band's fifth full-length, Young Machetes (V2), which is both a continuation and a culmination of the careening, caterwauling post-hardcore that makes up its catalogue. Over layers of time signature-warping bass and drums, screeching guitars, and melodic keyboards, the Brothers' trademark component is ever-present — Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie's dynamic vocal interplay. Whitney plays the deranged Mick Jones to Blilie's snarling Joe Strummer, as the two scream, plead, and occasionally croon over the course of these Machetes.

"They write melodies along with the music," explains Votolato about the dual-vocalist approach. "All of the vocals come after the song is done. They're definitely polarized characters, as far as the voice goes, which is kind of beneficial to us." But the elephant in the room is always the band's show-tune take on punk rock and hardcore. At times grating and downright difficult to listen to, the fiercely original stance the band employs, blending furious punk riffs with a big-top sensibility, renders Young Machetes a truly unique experience.

The Brothers have described the new record as a throwback to their earlier sound. "It's a return in the sense that some of the songs are super fast and kind of crazy," says Votolato. "As a whole, it's not a return, but some of our fastest, hardest songs are on this record. So in that respect, yeah, it's more chaos in the way we used to be. But at the same time, it's even farther away from a return to our past because of the different things we've tried on the album. It's kind of all over the place." All over the place, indeed, as they comfortably move from the disco/hip-hop influenced "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds" to the anthemic opener "Set Fire to the Face on Fire" to the fast-paced fury of "You're the Dream Unicorn!" And yes, such song titles are par for the course for the Bros.

This time around, Votolato and company worked with returning producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip) and Fugazi's Guy Picciotto. "It was by far our favorite experience recording. Everyone was really comfortable," gushes Votolato. "Having Guy there was really great because his energy is totally positive and super-awesome." They hooked up with the post-punk legend through the clever finagling of their tour manager, who invited the Fugazi guys out to a Blood Brothers show in D.C. One thing lead to another ... "[Guy] liked the band and we were talking to him after the show. We were like, ÔWe should talk to him about recording us,' because he produced Jordan's sister's band, The Gossip. We didn't think he would want to do it, but he was super excited." The firmly entrenched Seattle natives stayed in their hometown to record, though. "No one really liked the idea of spending two months in D.C.," Votolato quips. And who can blame them?

In the midst of a tour with ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Votolato seems enthusiastic about the new record and the current trajectory they're headed on, admitting Young Machetesis the band's favorite record. Not a bad attitude with which to showcase your new material, as these brothers through Blood and sweat continue to twist the conventions of punk rock into their own circus of sounds.

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