It takes a special kind of band to title an album We Are the Champions and have it not seem audacious. JEFF the Brotherhood is a special band — Nashville's "I told you so!" band, and as of a tweet last week, Nashville's "Jay-Z told you so!" band.
For JEFF, We Are the Champions is far from a statement of irony. It's one of purpose — that they are the torch-carrying international champions of Nashville punk. Whether devotee or detractor of brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall's reckless, basement-bred take on stoner-punk, followers of Nashville rock have decided where they stand on the band. But for many more the world over, Champions will be an introduction — the first JEFF LP to enjoy the orbit of major-label distribution.
Luckily for these bone-jammin' bros, it's a pretty fucking great introduction. And one that roars to a start sounding like garage rock's answer to, of all things, Rush's "Tom Sawyer" — "Hey Friend," to the cue of an airhorn, staggers suddenly to the speakers mid-mid-tempo groove with an oscillating, fuzzed-out swell of synth-bass. A wailing wall of guitarmonies follows before, like a curve ball, the beat drops out, a lone, clean-tone guitar drops in, and Jake Orrall intones in his blasé, staccato tenor, "I've been thinkin' about your mom."
For a raw rock combo that in their early days seemed singularly committed simply to sweet riffs and rousing energy, on Champions JEFF prove themselves through a confident embrace of dynamics — stretching the boundaries of their economical ensemble past the brink, with thrilling results.
Sure, the primal, in-your-face energy is still there and potent as ever — the breakneck, jackhammer hi-hat and pummeling power chords of "Cool Out" will transport you to a Trans Am speeding at 90 mph down the darkest of highways while you pass a spliff to your shotgun-rider and rigor mortis begins to overtake the body in your trunk. "Shredder" relentlessly shells the listener with an assailment of head-bangin', top-shelf Sabbath and Motörhead riffs that more than befits its name. And that's almost nothing compared to the will-make-you-start-punching-people-uncontrollably-if-you're-not-careful stoner-rock tour-de-force "Ripper" that follows a few tracks later.
Still, it's the cuts where the Orralls stretch out and indulge JEFF's more nuanced curiosities that really make Champions radiate. Whether it's the whistle-worthy "ooh-eh, ooh-ahs" and "whoa-ooh-whoa-ooh-whoas" of patient pop gems like "Bummer" and "Diamond Way" (the latter perhaps their best, most tuneful and tender song to date), the yearning closing anthem "Wastoid Girl" or a spacey, soulful, mid-album ballad like "Endless Fire" — a song whose resolute, organ-and-Mellotron-slathered motif and loose-pocketed groove make it sound like The Brotherhood meets "Whiter Shade of Pale."
The impressive thing about JEFF's moments of artistic maturation and decidedly dynamic forays from punk into straight classic rock is that they never feel forced — as these kinds of creative stabs often do when other, lesser bands intent on growth try to test deeper waters.
Just as the brothers Orrall have spanned the globe building their fervent local following into an international, Music City-born virus — by translating their '70s-possessed sonic mosaic of influences into their own fraternal secret language — they have arrived at a sound that matches the captivating, harum-scarum presence they've had from day one ... and a record that's sure to complement high-speed road trips down haunted highways the world over for years to come.
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