Music Reviews
Hypnotic Nights

JEFF the Brotherhood Hypnotic Nights

(Warner Bros.) Rating - 5/10

By and large, most of us are raised to root for the good guy. In rock music especially, there’s a sharp contrast between the jaded, opinionated star with unsociable tendencies and the all embracing, conciliatory star who’ll make it his mission to be loved by all with meaningless emotional poppycock. And then there are the ones who are somewhere in the middle, like JEFF the Brotherhood, who avoid taking themselves seriously at all costs and like to make nice with everyone, even if the sleaze may steal your girlfriend and expect you to be cool about it.

The brothers Orrall may appear to be lovable underachievers, but behind their uncertain back-story lays a great deal of business savvy. They’ve been playing under JEFF the Brotherhood for nearly a decade, blasting squalls of crunchy guitars and extended psychedelic jams before even graduating high school. Nearly their entire discography has remained unchanged, delivering an earful of delightfully zany, guiltless punk that suited their age. The effort has paid off, now that they’ve entered the ranks of big business with reputable big shots Warner Bros. If looked at it in purely strategic terms, the business move is an awfully wise one, relishing the chance to expand their audience in the same label that houses such acts as The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill and, most recently, former young indie darlings Surfer Blood.

As astute as the transition may be, JEFF the Brotherhood are at that awkward stage where they have to reestablish their sound when they’re just about coming up empty in the idea department. A particularly difficult task, as the duo has advanced their craft by adopting from a roster of all-star influences. Even the wardrobe has gone through an overhaul throughout the years, going from Rivers Cuomo’s soccer v-necks to George Harrison’s mope top/denim Let it Be look, which leads up to the current get-up: now the pair sport ironic-looking hick mustaches, baseball hats and sleeveless jean jackets while holding on to some goddamn patriotic American beer.

So the good fortune does come with a price. Intriguingly, JEFF the Brotherhood opt to stop shuffling the identikit, take a dose of anesthesia, and simply pick up where they left off with We Are Champions, or any of their earlier material for that matter. Country Life begins with the kind of blues kick you’ve been hearing since the beginning of time, except that the production is brasher, superimposed with skronky horns and, oh, there’s that chugging Weezer stomp once again. Except that now there’s the inclusion of some arbitrary Moog tweaks, which makes it swish like a Rentals song with an added shot of adrenaline. If there was any indication that the band would faintly go forward their sound, then the hope of that ever happening may have to wait a few records more – Sixpack is a big, dumb mid-tempo Cheap Trick retread about cooling out and getting wasted, while Hypnotic Mind is the sort of roasting, hasty economical punk song that ultimately succeeds in refining Heavy Days highlight U Got the Look.

Hypnotic Nights initially gives the impression of servicing to metal head nerds who secretly wished they were decadently immoral which, admittedly, would ensure them a fine selection of groupies for the upcoming tour. But these dudes are apparently so strung out that they can’t help falling into utterly inconsequential territory. Staring at the Wall has the most enticing riff in the entire album, in which Jake considers the idea of segregating himself to sheer nothingness (it ends with wobbly distortion for added effect) if approaching his girl brings all kinds of consequences. So far so good. But it quickly sours out with some of the Brotherhood’s weakest material – the cranked out Leave Me Out sounds like over-amped Nirvana pastiche - with cringing rhymes like, pretty as a peach/ I’m so out of reach – while Hypnotic Winter tries its hand at being so pointedly pop with a shipshape production that it unintentionally renders Snow Patrol’s Spitting Games. It turns predominantly dull as it nears its end, as Dark Energy feels like an endless, fuzzed-out thud with a sloppy bridge solo that tries but ultimately fails to salvage it from its rightful place – a Maladriot b-side.

JEFF the Brotherhood will always be synonymous with raw energy, and there is enough vitality in Hypnotic Nights to suggest they’ll continue to track their own agenda, even with their winning prize ticket. But as it stands, it results in another transitional phase for a band that is finding it increasingly hard to form their own identity instead of forging others with such flair. Most of Hypnotic Nights already sounds worn out, even when the backing of their label is ready to announce them with a bang as the next up-and-coming garage band. With their big smiles and affable demeanor, they sure seem like the ideal pair to spend the day out and have a mean barbecue with. But the last time we trusted the man with the coal bag he ended up running an entire nation, and look where it got us.