In recent months, local hometown heroes JEFF the Brotherhood have remained under-the-radar. They started playing less and less shows towards the end of 2017 and the first couple of months of 2018, deleted everything off of their Instagram page, and didn’t tease any new projects under JEFF. The end was seemingly near, and as an avid fan of the Brotherhood, this was worrisome. Surely they weren’t throwing the towel in yet, especially after the release of Zone, one of their greatest records, back in 2016.
Alas, it seems they had been planning, they had been working. It started back in March, teasing something on Instagram, telling us to “stay tuned.” They also started playing new songs at their triumphant return at Fort Houston’s birthday party back in May, and a month later at The End for Nameless Fest IV. They were playing new songs, simply called “Farewell” and “Mother,” but were also playing songs from Zone, and even “Ghost Ride Th’ Whip to Berlin,” their iconic fifteen minute staple song from the late 2000’s. “Ghost Ride” is sort of a calling card for all JEFF fans, and when I looked back from the front of the crowd at Nameless Fest, I saw everyone and their grandma with the biggest grin on their face, knowing what they were in for.
So when they announced Magick Songs along with the single “Parachute,” I had that same grin that the entire crowd had had a month prior. I instantly went to the bathroom (I was at work) and put my headphones in and listened to the five minute and zero second song. It was a side of JEFF I’ve never heard before — it was stripped down, calm, and simple; yet intricate, well thought out, and interesting to listen to. I instantly started thinking Global Chakra Rhythms, the second album they put out in 2015 (after Wasted on the Dream). Global Chakra saw JEFF take their first step away from their garage rock past, and more towards heavier, drawn-out songs that can put you on edge.
It’s always interesting when a band changes their sound drastically, like JEFF did. They’ve never limited themselves to any type of genre, but the differences in their past four records are something to note. If you listened to Wasted on the Dream and then listened to Magick Songs, you would think that it is two completely different bands. But maybe it is two completely different bands. Magick Songs is JEFF three years after their corporate fallout with Warner and deciding to release Wasted on the Dream, Global Chakra, and Zone all on their own label, Infinity Cat Recordings. They are more grown and more mature. JEFF has learned a lot throughout their seventeen years as a band, and Magick Songs is what they’ve been working for; it’s their thesis.
JEFF is a two piece turned five, with the addition of bassist Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather; Jenna Moynihan of labelmates Daddy Issues; and finally Kunal Prakash, a multi-instrumentalist from Nashville. On Magick Songs, they also collaborated with Reece Lazarus of Bully, who plays clarinet throughout the record. With multiple additions and contributions, JEFF has expanded out of their past selves and are paving the way for a new era.
The album takes you through a mystic portal of different feelings and emotions. It starts off with “Focus on the Magick,” a track that begins with a steady fade-in and a straightforward drum beat that continues throughout the length of the song. You really do begin to find yourself focusing heavy on the song; you don’t want to miss a thing that they are saying. This is JEFF at it’s most complex, and you want to capture everything and hear everything that went into this album, because it’s surely something you’ve never heard before. Moynihan begins the vocals section, telling us to “Focus on the Magick/you can see it in your mind.” The breakdown at the end of the song turns right into “Camel Swallowed Whole,” the second single off the album. This track is a standout from the beginning, with it’s calmed down sound and rhythm section. It’s strange, it makes you feel almost nostalgic for some reason, a sense of youth and innocence. The song continues with it’s simplicity and mellow vocals, and then goes into an entirely silent break. After the break, there is an instrumental ending which is JEFF at it’s tightest: they’ve been playing together for years, they understand how the other one works. The ending of “Camel Swallowed Whole” is the listener getting a glimpse into their mind, and their shared understanding of each other.
The journey continues, with JEFF truly “mellowing out.” You can hear inspiration from a variety of sources, but mostly Japanese prog/folk/rock, probably due to Jake’s appreciation of it (he just compiled and produced “Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973” last year). There’s a constant sense of dissociation almost, especially in the song “Celebration.” It’s paranoia-inducing, and best listened to at 2:37 in the morning. The next song that stands out is “Relish,” the eighth song on the album. An entirely instrumental track, it goes back and forth between the same notes, but it’s the feeling it evokes out of you that makes this song one of my top three tracks. It’s a song of reflection, of self-examination and of pondering. When you need to sit down and catch your breath, and just hone in on your thoughts. It brings out the sadness you feel when you’re still and alone with yourself. The simpleness of the track is terrifying when all you’re used to out of JEFF is fast garage rock or complicated psychedelic songs.
But then, heavy JEFF returns. It’s the songs that are playing when you’re being thrust into the stage by an entire crowd full of 13 year olds to 50/60 somethings. “The Mother” starts off with Jamin hitting the drum straightforward again, but different from “Focus on the Magick.” You’re preparing for war, something big is coming, your heart beat is rising, and then the guitar hits. Jake is telling us the tale of some beast that is “Walking in the clouds/leaving the gods and men in disbelief/watching/she spits her crooked tounge and evil eye/upon the ground/electric water raining on them.” You can picture the giant, walking slowly and destroying all that is in her way, each step is another blow to humankind. Then begins a gut-wrenching guitar solo that sounds like the amp is being shredded and torn apart by whoever this beast is, and she’s coming to get you, and she has won, and then she stops.
“Magick Man” is the next song after “The Mother.” This is the second heavy track and my personal favorite song off of this whole album. I can’t even begin to capture how amazing this track is, you have to listen to it in order to feel the sheer awesomeness it draws out of you. Don’t skip ahead to it, listen to the whole song from start to finish, but just make sure your volume is cranked all the way up on whatever you’re listening on at the 3:28 mark. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Listen to the rest of the album and you’ll be taken on a journey through everything that JEFF is: heavy, head-banging guitar parts that turn into calm, psychedelic off-putting song pieces that make you question yourself yet provoke a sense of tranquility.
To wrap it all up, listen to Magick Songs. It’s a mature, focused, and driven JEFF. It will excite old fans with their new sound, and it will bring in new fans that will make them want to explore more of their discography. They’re exploring an entirely new realm of themselves and showing it to us. They’re no longer solely punks with three stringed guitars and no bass: they are punks with a full band now, ready to take over and alter your reality.