July 12, 2012

Album Review: JEFF the Brotherhood's Hypnotic Nights

The last thing JEFF the Brotherhood probably want to be accused of is caring about much of anything. After all, it did take the brothers Orrall a decade and several albums into their career for them to finally breakthrough with one of 2011's 25 Best Albums, We Are the Champions. Slow, steady and avoiding the path of self-awareness has worked to the Nashville duo's advantage as they've merged stoner rock shredders with accessible bop-rock spunk, all while partying day in and day out on a diet of beer, weed and babes. Throughout it all, JEFF the Brotherhood have always been their own bosses by self-producing and releasing every album of theirs on their own label, Infinity Cat. All of this taken into account, and it makes their seventh studio effort and first for major label Warner Bros., the Dan Auerbach-produced Hypnotic Nights, a puzzling change of plans that doesn't always work in their favor.

The commercial alt-rock aspirations of JEFF the Brotherhood shouldn't come as any sort of surprise to listeners, especially in the occasional track where Jake and Jamin Orrall set their sights on scuzzy pop riffs pinned down to perfection by the Ramones, early Weezer and the Rentals. The problem here is that Hypnotic Nights takes advantage of this knowledge to the fullest extent, with the end result being a less varied listen that proves the old adage of "too much of a good thing" right. Top loaded with its strongest songs up front in classic major label tracklist fashion, their seventh studio effort doesn't see the brothers Orrall switching up their method or tempo as often, a distinct attribute about their style that makes them sound more free and undefinable than their garage rock peers. Album opener "Country Life" and recent single "Sixpack," while both decent and enjoyable numbers, rev up can-crushing chuggers that sounds like they should be going somewhere but ultimately settle into cruise control for the remainder album. It would be one thing if these first few tracks here on Hypnotic Nights were the Brotherhood's best works to date, but seeing as though they're harmless cuts that frustratingly can't escape the Cuomo connection, multiplying that by 12 (going semi-unplugged and reaching for the sitar only once with "Region of Fire") leads you to believe they were either forced or elected to play it safe instead of being characteristically dangerous.

On the upside, the shaggy haired rockers haven't lost their ability to at least have fun with their work, still using their usual M.O. of partying and girls to generate a youthful vibe that will cash in with a younger audience and new listeners wanting to connect with the image. What falls flat here shouldn't be blamed entirely on the Orrall brothers either, as Dan Auerbach's presence behind the boards is the elephant in the room. On paper, it sounds like a good idea to have one half of the biggest alternative rock duos in the world produce your widest release yet, but the Black Keys' evolution itself in recent years has found itself stuck within tightly-wound song structures that have lost much of the loose, free-wheeling energy of their early years. Every track on Hypnotic Nights runs in at five minutes or less as well, with no lengthy psychedelic freak outs to be found. Maybe it wouldn't have saved the album, but adding in an in-the-red epic or two might have at least thrown a bit of color onto the longplay's grey scale. JEFF the Brotherhood were right to assume that their next step should deservedly be something to capitalize on their growing success, but caring too much about the details and the commercial appeal is what puts Hypnotic Nights to sleep. Kind of a bummer, dudes...

JEFF the Brotherhood's Hypnotic Nights will be released July 17, 2012 on Warner Bros. Records.

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