JEFF The Brotherhood graduates to a major label with the new Hypnotic Nights, but even with an assist from Black Keys guitarist (and increasingly in-demand producer) Dan Auerbach, the Nashville sludge-pop duo hardly seems to have changed at all. Despite the bigger budget and corresponding pressures to be more commercial, brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall were apparently left alone to do a virtual remake of 2011’s delightfully slackerish We Are The Champions; it’s the Desperado to Champions’ El Mariachi. If anything, Hypnotic Nights is slightly more bone-headed than its predecessor. Whereas Champions tempered the nonstop guitar fuzz and deadpan sentiments of the lyrics with bursts of hooky melody, Nights is a flat-out sprint into the heart of punked-up grunge, with little in the way of dynamics or variety.
This approach has its obvious pluses and minuses. The good news is that fans of Champions and JEFF’s previous records will find plenty to like. “Hypnotic Mind” boasts a smoking guitar solo and the album’s most inspired funny-stupid lyric: “I don’t want to pay the price / I just want to be nice.” “Staring At The Wall” is a sullen-teen anthem in the mold of Jay Reatard, while “Mystic Portal II” dissipates in a cloud of psychedelic sitars. Auerbach’s hand is felt most prominently on the opening track “Country Life,” which sneaks in a horn section as the brothers JEFF sneakily ponder mortality: “I can’t wait until I’m 29 / What if I run out of time / I’ve got so much to do.”
While Auerbach’s other production projects from 2012, Dr. John’s excellent Locked Down and Hacienda’s solid Shakedown, bear obvious similarities to the Black Keys, he’s mostly hands off on Hypnotic Nights, letting JEFF delve deeper into the abstractions of consciously dumb rock songs. Again, not a bad approach, but the Orralls might have benefitted from a little extra direction in the songwriting department. Even at just 10 songs (plus the bizarre, synth-heavy cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” that closes the record), Nights feels repetitive and even leaden at times. JEFF The Brotherhood doesn’t have to grow up, but growth of some kind might be nice.