Fronted by Vancouver-based siblings Bob and Brian, with bassist Joseph Lubinsky Mast and drummer Leon Power providing the rhythm section, The Sumner Brothers made their recording debut back in 2006 with In The Garage and, while their name may not have spread too far outside their home stomping grounds, they’ve garnered enough support to make The Hell In Your Mind, their fifth album.
While their first two albums were predominantly acoustic and restrained, this takes its cue from the noisier, more aggressive moments on its 2012 predecessor, I’ll Be There Tomorrow, a musically and lyrically dark and dense affair that, if not quite in the 16 Horsepower league of intensity, is still a raw and exposed nerve.
Calling to mind fellow Canadian Neil Young, the album opens with Last Night I Got Drunk, a tribal march beat and electric guitars that circle like vultures driving a song of profound, despairing loss. Things don’t lighten up with the seven minute Ant Song, a gathering black sonic cloud and nervy guitar preceding the opening line “dark was the night when they came for me” on a jittery track that would seem to be about mental illness (which would tie in with the album title) and, apparently, insect-colonising fungi, that feels like it had an hallucinogenic midwife.
Indeed, they certainly know how to grab your attention in the first few words of a lyric, Giant Song starting off with “Thirty-one years ago I killed my mother at birth and now my dad hates me”, the narrator proceeding to describe how he kept growing “like a bloody weed” until he was 15 foot tall and run out of town to starve, a song of alienation that explodes into fierce, slashing guitars, the vocals howling “you don’t know what it’s like” as he turns into a mountain-dwelling murderous beast.
By way of relatively light relief, It Wasn’t All My Fault introduces a drum machine to bolster a largely acoustic pulsing, regret-themed number that calls both the Velvets and Townes Van Zant to mind, while electronica also colours album closer My Dearest Friends, the persistent drum machine joined by a retro synth behind the repeated steel string guitar notes and the low key vocals on a brief lyric that may or may not have something to do with death.
There’s one other moment of quiet relief with the gently drifting Lose Your Mind, clarinet and strings caressing a song about letting go of mental burdens (quite possibly with herbal or chemical assistance) and “a life on your feet that ain’t all it’s cracked up to be”.
The remaining two numbers are resolutely out there, the heavy psychedelic Go This One Alone all cranked up distorted guitars and gravelly vocals and I’m Not Ready a gradually swelling, throaty-voiced alt-country rocker with lift the roof anthemic lyrically defiant chorus ambitions. Hell, yes.
Review by: Mike Davies