Band/Artist: Brutus
Album: Nest
Best song: “Fire”
Worst song: “Horde V”

No one gives a shit about my process – especially since I’m not really promoting this site, not even on Twitter – but I am trying to write more on this site. It’s awfully hard, though, because of the various (rightful) restrictions my job puts on me. Journalism, in the age of social media, puts the restrictions on its adherents to not promote political causes or seem biased against/for candidates/parties/etc. and all I think about within the 2019 world is politics – you can’t fucking avoid it. So, even the type of navel-gazing bullshit I write here would probably end up being within that structure. I’m not 100% sure I didn’t line-step on the Myrkur essay just by shitting on white nationalists, so who knows?

I have about half an essay about “what do artists owe fans and what do fans owe art?” that was going to be based on the Game of Thrones final season, but it mostly sucks. It will probably never see the light of day, but that’s life. Instead, it’s time to rehash some old things I think about all the time and, uh, whatever. I didn’t invite you here. you chose to read this garbage. Strap in.

What, exactly, is brand loyalty and how much of it is simply a shortcut toward self-identity within capitalism? Luxury goods are a certain type of signifier and probably the most obvious; wearing a Rolex is a particular way to show people you’ve got a lot of money. My brand loyalty to Toyota is largely based on comfort – I know where all the buttons are and I know the car won’t break down a lot – but owning a Prius with DC plates is also a signifier of a certain type (seeing my car, you know already that I shop at Trader Joe’s and I compost).

It certainly isn’t something I, as the oldest millennial, try to adhere to; I was young and shaped by the era of indie rock fans of all stripes yelling “sell out!” at every band that made lots of money. My strongest teen brand loyalties were to the indie labels of Chicago and have owned record label brand t-shirts (and hats, in the case of Thrill Jockey)as a sign of said loyalty. Coming up in the golden age of indie rock, I really cared about Touch & Go/Quarterstick, Merge, Sub Pop, Matador, Thrill Jockey, Kill Rock Stars, SST, Drag City and, later, Barsuk.

Ultimately, record labels – even indie record labels – aren’t and weren’t the signifier that I always wanted them to be. Owning multiple Thrill Jockey knit hats didn’t mean anything other than getting weird looks from people on public transit or questions about what it meant (my shitty explanations of “post-rock”) weren’t of much value. Having a Sub Pop “Loser” shirt mostly just brought lame jokes my way. While some of the labels I name above were and are location-centric, the sounds on each was not necessarily consistent or necessary.

But, I took to labels because they were a way to learn more about indie rock during those formative years. Sub Pop being the epicenter of grunge in the 1990s was key to me to learn about the history of the sound, while Kill Rock Stars introduced me more to the music of the all-too-distant Pacific Northwest. Touch & Go was the most vast of the Chicago scene, but Thrill Jockey brought me to post-rock and expanded palate for the genre. But they’re also labels-as-genre was and that is facile.

To overuse the “back in my day” trope, that sort of sorting was necessary for me in the pre-Spotify (hell, days; recommendations were to be had from your friends, reviews with “recommended if you like” lines, the opening bands for artists you loved and from searching labels. The latter two are connected; labels often package bands to tour together for the ovious management reasons and it worked – and continues to work – pretty well.

This, of course, is unnecessary in 2019 because of algorithms and social media; I’m a member of a Facebook group called “The Post-Rock Appreciation Society.” The group is mostly a bunch of people who are young enough to be my children are just learning of Sigur Rós and Mogwai, but there are the odd recommendation posts for bands from small towns and faraway lands (Europe). I don’t use my Discover Weekly Spotify playlist because I like discovering albums more than I like discovering songs, but it’s funny to see a streaming music service recommend things I liked when I was 16 (Jesus Lizard) this week because I listened to another band I liked when I was 16 (Shellac) last week. Old habits die hard, though, and I still find most of my new music from friends, tour openers and labels.

Which brings me to Brutus and the best song of 2019 (so far, but I bet it holds up, depending on Chelsea Wolfe’s forthcoming album):

“Fire” is a fight song written from the perspective of someone torching everything either within themselves or torching something important to them or torching someone important to them. It’s full of starts and stops, combining the soaring aesthetics of a Deafheaven shoegaze metal guitar with the drum work that moves between old-time punk to Jesus Lizard-style post-hardcore. The song takes the quietLOUDquiet moves and turns them into something more affecting.

The battle hymn – self-battle hymn? – is so phenomenal because Stefanie Mannaerts’ vocals fit the track so well. Sounding somewhere between the verge of violence and breakdown, Mannaerts’ croon of “Spill your water/I need water, hold me now” sound like something between the arsonist and the victim, without the clarity of the protagonist/antagonist diad.

As I’ve written here too many times, I think lyrics are overrated within song criticism. The lyrics that many people cite as great are fucking dumb, corny or sound like they’re written by a brain-damaged person with a rhyming dictionary.

The best lyrics, to my ears, either work within a structure that mirrors the way we talk or are an outlet for the vocals to be an instrument showcasing an idea that fits the rhythm of the rest of the song. “Fire” – and all of Nest‘s songs – is perfectly that; it lets Mannaerts give an atmospheric idea of the song’s fury. It’s open-ended, it’s powerful and Mannaerts sounds like her life depends on this conflict.

“War,” the album’s first single, is just as furious, but in different ways. Again, Mannaerts’ guides the song; first in a drumless first movement powered by her vocals and Peter Mulders’ bass, then in a second delirious hardcore punk movement driven by her drums and Stijn Vanhoegaerden’s piercing guitar, then back to a vocal performance laid bare… and so on.

The whole album stems from the band’s ability to squeeze relatable emotion from these small phrases, whichever instrument each is featuring. “Sugar Dragon” plays slower, while “Blind” has a punk catchiness reminiscent of my youth searching through record stores.

It all sounds exactly like Brutus, though.

To get back to the beginning of this and recommendations-via-labels… this is the method by which I came to Brutus. I’d not heard the band nor heard of the band before Sargent House – label of Deafheaven, Russian Circles, Emma Ruth Rundle, Chelsea Wolfe, etc. – had tweeted about the above video of “War” in anticipation of the band’s forthcoming (at the time) album. I fell in love with “War,” partially because I love drummers who sing, partially because I love woman singers, but mostly because I loved the post-punk sound.

I don’t know that I would’ve come to Brutus – a hardly popular European band that doesn’t play in the States much – without that tweet. I wouldn’t know anything about The Body if they weren’t on Thrill Jockey (though they hardly sound like Tortoise, the band that got me interested in Thrill Jockey). I wouldn’t know about Marriages or Emma Ruth Rundle without Sargent House and my obsession with/love of Chelsea Wolfe.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I’ve been let down too much by the algorithms’ recommendations, whether on or Spotify. The labelmate/label brand loyalty method is hardly foolproof; I picked up a lot of Delta 72 and Lee Harvey Oswald Band records as a Shellac/Big Black fan in high school and was severely disappointed. But, it gets me some good hits like Nest, one of my favorite albums of this year, 3/4 of the way into the year.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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