Album Review: “Neon Native,” Brother O’ Brother

03/22/2017 12:53 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2017
Brother O' Brother/Neon Native

Brother O’ Brother is a band from Indiana. There are two guys in the band: Chris Banta and Warner Swopes. Banta plays guitar and handles the vocals, while Swopes sits in the pocket. They’ve got a full-length album – 12 songs – dropping in May, called Neon Native.

A little background would probably clarify why I’m reviewing Neon Native, which, by the way, absolutely, positively kicks ass. I recently reviewed No Gods No Loss, the latest from the Sterile Jets. I guess the two bands know each other. Anyway, I got an email from Chris Banta, asking about the possibility of reviewing Neon Native. Frankly, I usually delete such requests immediately because I already have more music to review than I can handle. But Banta’s description of their sound – garage/blues/gospel – caught my interest. I’m glad I listened.

Essentially, Brother O’ Brother is a garage band with dense influences of blues and gospel. I know, I know, gospel rock sounds like an oxymoron, but in this case is it full-spectrum dominance, like vampires breeding with werewolves, a muscular graft-job. Excellent stuff!

Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on what Brother O’ Brother’s music reminded me of. And then it hit me – Jimi Hendrix marries AC DC: their offspring is Brother O’ Brother. There’s an indefinable element, a pulverizing rawness that prompts such an analogy. There’s a stochastic resonance to Brother O’ Brother’s sound that’s assertive and visceral, like a kick in the stomach.

These guys have got it going on.

Banta’s guitar work resembles corrosive particle winds from a galactic storm. Lots of fuzz buster that provides a layered sound: big, with a sensual, more alive than alive quality. His guitar, along with his vocals, really steer the music. The vocals – cool and proto-punk – demand special attention. Banta’s voice comes across as wickedly noxious and robust, like a potent cigar that’s too damn strong to smoke without turning green. In other words, the dude can belt it out.

Like most good drummers, Swopes hits hard and extends the sound of the snare, which gives the music a crazy, irresponsible ferocity. Drummers never receive much attention, but Swopes takes care of business like a gaudy old whore at a teamsters convention.

My favorite song on Neon Native is probably “R.O.S.E.” I say probably because I also liked “16 Flowers,” which begins with a Jimmy Page-like guitar riff, along with “I Got It,” which has a vicious punk flavor hidden inside. And, of course, “Widow Maker,” upon which Swopes makes the cymbals hiss like a pit full of vipers.

The only song I didn’t care for was “Sunshine.” It sounds too 80s hair band for me. But hey, eleven out of twelve ain’t bad. Eleven superb songs on one album is a win-win for everybody.

You need to check these guys out. As soon as it drops, pick up a copy of Neon Native. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry.

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