Personalized albums might be the way to a critic’s heart. I remember receiving one of eight advance copies of Why?’s Elephant Eyelash with one-of-a-kind artwork and feeling as though I owed it to Yoni Wolf to review his record. Even if it was just a publicity technique and I am not “one of eight” with special artwork, it still meant a lot to me.
Upon receiving an EP from L.A. band Brother, I felt special again as it came delicately packaged and designed; my address written in heavy marker around splattered blue paint on brown cardboard. Even if you purchase the Brother EP and don’t get the Blake Gillespie treatment (an actual privilege), the album is still worth the effort. Brother is dreamy to ghostly vocals, over scatterbrain arrangements, as though the band is led by a conductor with a nervous twitch. Before a cut and paste encore of free association musings on closer “Whale Bait,” a deep voice cheekily declares “we are God’s marching band,” a declaration that might hold weight in the minds of Brother.
The splendor in the EP comes from the lo-fi sound, but Brother is masters of recording. Brother sounds like The Walkmen demos, a fully aware band yet to be discovered. It postures as low budget, but it prevails as genuine in method. The drums are supposed to sound like they were recorded in the adjacent room. The acoustic strumming is pitch retarded, but sonically pleasing. On “1985 World Fair” someone is skronking on a trumpet, competently and the bass is turned way up, the free jazz mess ensues and it’s all so tender in its chaos.
On “The Ghost of Agony’s Past” Brother storm into the song with a drum march, a blistering shred covered in feedback and a feral scream. The blitzkrieg continues for a couple stanzas as the lead singer croons, “hold your son out, I am the devil.” In a schizophrenic’s blink, Brother has slowed the pace, replacing sacrificial horror with earthly poems that assure “you will become part of this ground, part of my land.”
“Trees” is held together by hypnotic plucking and a spacious bassline, as the singer drifts like a ghost, wailing in cold breath, chimes jingle jangle in and out of the studio and the drums periodically tie in routines before ceasing for further ambient meddling. Brother’s tendency to ghoul up the vocals is occasionally used to a fault, such as the Casper-like ohh’s on “The Transfiguration.” But, it is an excusable quality as the recording techniques Brother employ outweighs the quirky fallbacks.
Brother wins with this EP through fearless songwriting. Closer “Whale Bait” is jerky like a Gang of Four song, but refuses to settle in style, by including a hokey hand clap breakdown as the group sings “If we sleep through the rain / we’ll all be whale bait / and if we run from the eyes of the tame / we will feel his weight.” The song returns to form with a piston pumping drum underbelly and wraithlike guitar strums that lead into a fully realized version of the refrain. With each listen of Brother’s EP I am impressed with a recording style or decision that pushes a standard post-punk melody into meticulous song structures for delicate ears. If you are not one to nerd-out on recording techniques, Brother can simply be described as earthly post-punk, erratic on the drums and transcendental with the guitars; somewhere pleasant between The Walkmen and The Anniversary.