Brakes’ album cover for Give Blood uses the same deep red background and formal typeface as the cover for many an edition of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Similarities stop there; this British import is not a generational touchpoint, and it doesn’t share anything with Holden Caulfield other than discontentedness and the fact that both tell stories that don’t go much of anywhere.
Several signs point to Give Blood as an America fixation – stories of getting drunk and lost in New York City (“NY Pie”) told in a twinge of folly and regret, a definite tilt to early country R&B-isms, either in slide, jangle or 2/4 beats. There’s seconds-long bursts of vitriol against Dick Cheney that maybe took, like, a brief moment to write and arrange. There’s chop-busting for those who blow rails and lose their edge to the disco all night long. All of this has a sort of focus on it that’s about as long as it is narrow.
Supposing that Americans sometimes get a fixation on British culture of being all Carnaby Street mods, or “Quadrophenia,” or all-night raves with giant pants, it’s only fair that Brakes can have an equivalent mode of thought, that Americans are simple, driven by hedonism, loud, obnoxious, twangy and boisterous. Yet the only thing notable about the way they tell this story is how quickly they get it done: Sixteen songs in under a half-hour, with some tracks not even reaching the 10-second mark. These are the underpinnings of many a great punk or hardcore record (and even more a mediocre one) but don’t look for that sort of inspiration, energy or determination here. Hooks are nonexistent, riffs are played with no spirit (and you’ve heard them before), and the braying vocals of Eamon Hamilton (also of British Sea Power) evoke a weary Van Morrison, nose pinched shut with a clothespin. There’s good reason why this guy never got near the mic in that band. If you took away the melodica, the masks and the mystery of a band like Clinic, you’d be left with a Brakes; competent, middle-of-the-road, going nowhere fast.
Moody, whiny, and filled with complaint are no way to memorably come across, and neither a pedestrian cover of the Johnny Cash standard “Jackson” nor a lamentful Jesus & Mary Chain cover are going to offer much in the course of redemption. If there were something – anything, really – to hold on to or take away from Brakes’ music, it’s lost in a field of sour feelings and jade that could fill a Midwest the band has never really discovered. Never have the words “musically inert” rang more truly, and possibly, never in recent times has an original sounding band been less consequential.
By Doug Mosurock