As the band fully established on their previous effort, We Are the Champions, what was a fleeting pleasure four JEFF the Brotherhood albums ago — a sugary pop hook overloaded with gnarly guitar fuzz — is now more likely to be the primary mode of attack. On Hypnotic Nights, their second release with Warner (but the first to announce itself as such), JTB has managed to up both the sugar and the fuzz, layering massive guitars with simple, catchy melodies and then, whenever they feel like it, getting kind of weird for a stretch — twisting the entire mix in a turbine of phase-shifting effects, for instance, or imitating a sitar.
As ever, Jake and Jamin Orrall demonstrate their masterful and particular way with timing the giddy toggles between hard-charging, ultra-concentrated rock and whatever manner of trippy, warped tangent they can think to throw into the works before snapping the whole contraption right back into place.
The band's ongoing renovation of the power ballad — with a particular emphasis on power — that began on 2009's Heavy Days with "The Tropics" continues here in the standout track "Leave Me Out." Starting with a wiry mid-tempo guitar melody that skulks somewhere between Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" and Love Cup's "Entirely Made of Wood," the song quickly blasts into full overblown distortion, mixing angst and ennui — "Heaven or hell / I can't even tell," Jake intones — with a brain-invasive species of earworm. The song's moneymaker comes in a break-down bridge, where a riff flips violently from string-tickling high notes to volcanic power-chord lows, then collapses into a brief maelstrom of squealing feedback, start-start-stop guitar chugs and martial drum thuds that, intended or not, form an awesome miniature homage to the intro of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
This band has never been shy about tipping their caps to influence. And from the insistent, droning riffs, reminiscent of Clinton-era Sabbath grabbers like Failure and Hum, to the tumbling double-time cherub rock wedged between the Rentals-recalling choruses of party starter "Sixpack," there are numerous dots of '90s alt-rock light scattered throughout the skies of these Hypnotic Nights. But the constellation they form is fully and uniquely the Brotherhood's.
Jake and Jamin also like to criss-cross decades and genres for inspiration, as evidenced by the Donovan-esque hippie cosmos spinning inside "Region of Fire" — and no matter how many JEFF the Brotherhood albums you've heard, you won't see the saxophone solo coming from 100 light-years left of infinity, man.
The album is enjoyable for many reasons, not least its stylistic variety. "Region of Fire" is followed by "Hypnotic Winter," where it's back to a straight rock beat, and a guitar droning throaty and low like a V-8 throttled out on a sun-baked American highway, then "Wood Ox," which opens with what could be an errant banjo string flailing against a 2-by-4, followed by a bouncy synth that sounds like a cross between a harpsichord and a Mario Bros. jump-sound effect. (MARIO the Brotherhood?) It's not surprising that a band with confusion-courting albums titles like The Boys R Back in Town and We Are the Champions, and who open this record with a track called "Country Life," choose to end on a song called "Changes." But in a case of compound misdirection, it is, in fact, a cover of the Black Sabbath classic — and a surprisingly well executed one at that, with gurgling underwater organs and high-pitched wails lending it a spooky air. Paranoid, even. But for all its varied textures, forcefully realized by the band and co-producer Dan Auerbach, Nights is mainly a pleasure for its reliably molten core of heavy, cartilage-loosening guitars combined with the brothers' singular chemistry and arrangement smarts.
JEFF is confident as ever in just being themselves. Darlings of coastal media though the band may be, the aforementioned "Country Life" (not a cover), with its themes of smoked meat, swimming holes and gun ownership, is as unapologetically Southern as any of the contemporary trucker-cap country out there — with a decidedly punker-dude edge, of course: "I've still got so much to do / And I've got my records, too," Jake sings. And there's an undercurrent of reflection among the Red State carnivore tropes. Not many budding guitar gods express a desire to reverse-Dorian Gray their youth and young manhood, but right in the middle of the song Jake declares counterintuitively, "I can't wait until I'm 29."
Still a few years shy of that age, Jake and Jamin, who've been jamming and making records since before they could drink, vote or drive, have already enjoyed an incredible ride: While Hypnotic Nights might be an introduction to the band for many new fans, it's the duo's seventh album.
"The space above my head extends a few hundred miles," Jake sings on the mini-epic "Mystic Portal II." That's a long way up, but this might be the album that pours the last bit of fuel into the afterburners — shooting them straight through that space and into whatever lies beyond.
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