Brass Against
Brass Against EP



Release Date: 04/10/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A novel approach, or a novelty act?

A couple of months ago I was watching a documentary about Twisted Sister on Netflix and learned that the band, much like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Queen, Rush, Van Halen, and basically every other band from the “classic rock” era, got their start playing covers at school dances and clubs and made their name as an electrifying live cover band while fine tuning their image and sound.[1] This seems to be a forgotten part of the developmental arc of rock bands for a number of reasons that I’m not going to go into here, but the phenomenon of artists establishing themselves as hot commodities by playing covers is a phenomenon that maybe only still thrives on YouTube.[2] And even when an artist gains viral fame for their covers, it’s pretty rare for them to parlay that success and attention into the realm of original music.

This EP is Brass Against’s attempt to make that jump.

If you’ve never heard of them before, Brass Against (formerly known as “Brass Against The Machine”) are a socio-politically conscious collective that complement the standard guitar+drums rock band setup with a brass section. The somewhat gimmicky approach works because they tend to play songs whose underlying funkiness is accentuated nicely by the brass section. They also have the advantage of being fronted by a vocalist with genuine charisma and range in Sophia Urista. I actually went to their first two live shows ever and their repertoire included a lot of RATM, naturally, plus songs by Tool, Living Colour, Led Zep, and Kendrick Lamar, and despite the fact that they were covering well-worn standards, I was impressed with the energy and freshness they brought to the performance. The band blew up online in mere months and, thanks to a steady stream of viral YouTube videos, started booking international tours and festival slots within a year. They’ve even compiled their covers onto three full-length albums. But how does that translate to writing and recording original music?

“Umbra” is a perfect opener to the EP, beginning as it does with a swelling guitar riff joined by the horns and drums which all drop out before coming back in with a full-throated scream from Urista. It’s terrific stuff, and the rest of the song maintains the energy of the intro with Urista’s screamed chorus hook easily being the most immediate highlight of the record. “Pull the Trigger” is driven by jazzy horn arrangements with the guitar mainly adding cathartic power to the choruses. It’s probably the most impressive song on the album from a compositional and songwriting perspective, but it doesn’t quite have the same raw energy as “Umbra”. The final song on the EP, “Blood on the Other”, is a somewhat disappointing conclusion because, apart from the homage to Kashmir mid-way through the song, tends to dip into post-grunge/nu-metal cliché a tad too much and doesn’t sound as fresh and focused as the previous two songs.

The main battle the band has to fight, as I see it, is against expectations. If you’re used to hearing them cover classics then it would be really hard not to compare their originals to the covers and that’s not a battle that the band can realistically be expected to win. They do, however, put up a fight. The riffs aren’t highly original and draw heavily from the Drop-D oeuvre of Tool and RATM, but they don’t really dominate the proceedings. Guitarist/bandleader Brad Hammonds is the foundation on which the rest of the band builds, and he wisely doesn’t hog the spotlight. He sticks to basics, locking in nicely with drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell, and providing texture and power, while letting the brass section, and saxophonist Andrew Gutauskas’ arrangements, do the heavy lifting in terms of colour. This is why the first two songs on the EP are the best; they sound fresh because they’re not as guitar-driven as “Blood on the Other”. Against the odds, when the band really clicks they manage to bring a novel spin to an otherwise considerably rehashed sound. Now they just have to figure out how to escape being pigeonholed as a novelty act.

"Umbra": https://youtu.be/R9NNZ3bqcgg
"Pull the Trigger": https://youtu.be/wCyepeE6WHw

[1] Can you imagine people dancing to Rush though?
[2] Didn’t Justin Beiber get his start that way? I don’t care enough to cross-check.



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user ratings (1)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
SitarHero
April 13th 2020


13602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Tried to write a succinct review. Failed.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2020


15270 Comments


You're not that far away from achieving.

SitarHero
April 13th 2020


13602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I feel like four paragraphs for a three-song EP is probably excessive. My main goal of late is to keep reviews to 3 paragraphs cos that's about as much as I'm willing to read for most reviews anyway.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2020


15270 Comments


The truth comes out. I've been writing longer and longer reviews and you come out and say shit like that

SitarHero
April 13th 2020


13602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Lol! Sorry Rob. Fucking millennial attention spans amirite? xD

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
April 13th 2020


7170 Comments


"My main goal of late is to keep reviews to 3 paragraphs cos that's about as much as I'm willing to read for most reviews anyway."

I feel this. If I can't sit through someone else's 4+ paras, why would they sit though mine, even if mine are hot shit.

SitarHero
April 13th 2020


13602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Word. tbh there are several writers on this site who are good enough writers to make long reviews really engaging and entertaining, but I'm not one of them.

parksungjoon
April 14th 2020


38446 Comments


> I feel like four paragraphs for a three-song EP is probably excessive.

ive done 6 paragraphs for a two song single. but then again im a pillock and you're actually good at this stuff lol

good review ofc, mindpos. might give this a bash, not a ratm fan by any means tho

Digging: Slint - Tweez

SitarHero
April 15th 2020


13602 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Lol, thanks bud! You can definitely hold your own in the writing department.

And this EP does have charm. Urista has her own thing going on vocally, so that plus the horns give this band its own identity despite the riffs sounding a bit dated and occasionally derivative.



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