From 1997 and onwards, The Blood Brothers had a 10 year run of pushing the extremes of post-hardcore, not just sonically through screaming and a heavy amount of distortion but also creatively, nurturing the heritage of At The Drive-In and Fugazi with great care. The band served as a mothership from which several side projects could operate in the harder-to-reach reaches of the indie rock scene. Since The Blood Brothers broke up in 2007, the conveniently named band Past Lives rises above any such one-off trails and aims at something that feels more consistent, lasting and worth sticking to. You have to search deep in the debut Tapestry Of Webs to find something connecting to their past.
Yet consistent and focused aren’t really the words you’re looking for after an initial listen. The band may consist of four former Blood Brothers, but now they’re ditching post-hardcore thrashing for art punk stomping. You might be tempted to think it sounds like they’re ready to pull on quirky fashion clothing to perform at one of those nonsensical, dimly lit underground avant-garde art events. You know, the ones with visible piping covered in aluminum foil á la Warhol’s The Factory and the letters DIY floating as a vibe in the atmosphere.
Well, Tapestry Of Webs is dodgy but it’s not completely lost in its own web of art rock innovation and the hardcore backbone of the roots of this web can still be traced. With former Blood Brother Johnny Whitney out of the picture, lead singer Jordan Billie is left alone and able to adapt to these new, far more sublime soundscapes. In compositions much more demanding than any works these guys have produced before, he wallows in ugly excuses for melodies that post-hardcore fans have grown a custom to and shows off an understanding to the simple yet dynamic approach the lead vocal duties require. Songs such as the somber marches of “Deep In The Valley” and “Aerosol Bouquet” benefit from the kindergarten-level punk melody.
Only occasionally does the band allow releases of relentless hardcore punk energy that has blessed their previous studio efforts and their raving live shows and instead prefer building tension with use of restraint and subtlety. Sometimes the band offers no relief at all to contrast the unnerving quality their intimate, raw sessions produce. The captivating opener “Paralyzer”, as an example, describes a t-shirt-wearing girl with the words “She’s got you transfixed” and builds up into an art punk stomper that escalates towards the end with soaring backing vocals thickening the atmosphere only to drop down leading straight into the spiky “Falling Spikes”.
So when the band does succumb to scratch their itch to rock out a bit, as on the consecutive pair of ATDI-esque “K Hole” and the catchy highlight “Hex Takes Hold” it’s only to further expand on the album’s already dynamic structure. Even on those two punky, sprawling, youthful tracks Past Lives display a clever compositional sense, keen eye to details in production and level of skill that only experienced musicians can achieve. Actually, such innovation and expression-filled range in both lyrics and music have seldomly been heard in punk-laid rock music since Relationship Of Command.
Some might state Tapestry Of Webs is an incoherent, whimsical mess of typical hipster art punk as the first listen just might allude to. I beg to differ and reply that repeated listens will prevail and reveal a depth in which rewarding variety and clever dynamics appear. Some might pass Past Lives on as another fling from the Blood Brother collective that takes a nonsensical and overly artsy step in their career. I welcome this collective’s sudden surge of creativity and progress. If we completely understand the message in the cryptic, suggestive lyrics and swiftly mood-switching, unsettling instrumentation stands beside the point that Tapestry Of Webs is one of the more entertaining and refreshing art punk endeavors of the last 10 years or so. Getting entangled with its quirky jerks and dodgy twists and turns is quite nice after all.