Is it punk? Is it post-punk? Is it no-wave? Is it hardcore? Doesn’t really matter. All we know is when you drop this on your turntable, you’ll hear a bit of static, which is your warning that you’ve got about 5 seconds before you’re punched in the face by the crunching, grinding force of NC’s Whatever Brains. Opener “Bad Dads” features howling vocals and seasick riffing, then in a flurry of drunken electronics, it’s gone, and you’re just kind of asking “what the-,” but before you get to “fuck,” the Brains have moved 20 miles down the road. As someone who has been a big fan of these guys since their 7″s, it’s really impressive to think how utterly unique this sound is, especially for a band with only a handful of releases. It takes the middle route between hardcore energy, garage snot, post-punk experimental sensibility, and No Wave’s angular, ‘fuck you’ approach – think if Jay Reatard had gotten really really really into later WIRE.
There’s scarcely anything that approaches a melody here, but somehow, the tracks manage to get implanted in your head, like the quasi-hardcore scorcher “Drink The Salt.” The singer’s in full lunatic blossom here – his maniac screech simultaneously recalls the obnoxious kid in your 5th grade class and a ranting doomsday preacher. What makes this record so fun to listen to again and again is the way it totally throws any sense of progression out the window, even in the same track. There’s a sensibility at work here similar to Jeff The Brotherhood’s classic “Castle Storm” – songs stitched together from little micro-songlets, somehow different, yet all belonging together in a really organic way. The tracklisting also zigs and zags with wild abandon – bouncing from monstrous fire-breathing numbers to delicate, tense crawls like “Marquee Warfare” we’re always expecting the entire thing to explode in a giant mushroom cloud of weirdo energy…and it usually does.
There aren’t many records out there, or bands that sound like this. Close analogues are the brittle tech-punk of the A-FRAMES or maybe a tighter, punkier version of THE FALL – it’s an instantly recognizable sound, but even as it’s one of the Brains’ greatest strengths, it’s also one of the things that disappointed me a bit about this record. They’ve cut out their own territory, but a lot of these songs are equally at home on any of their releases – though their sound is utterly their own, it hasn’t changed much at all from release to release. This of course, doesn’t take away from the fact that songs like “I Am A Tourist” rip no matter what, even if they do sound suspiciously close to other tracks on the album (aforementioned “Drink The Salt”). The tendency for the songs to smear together in a haze of shrieks and shuttling beats can sometimes work against the band, because it makes for a bit of fatigue by the end – after about 5 spins, it can be hard to pick anything out from the din, even if I consistently come back for repeat listens.
It should be said that this record’s not for everybody – it’s grating and abrasive, probably intentionally so. This means, though, that it utterly commands your attention, even if only to ask “what in the fuck are you listening to?” It’s an old, rickety wooden roller-coaster of a record – bouncing, shaking, jolting, as if the whole thing will simply come undone from the energy of rocketing around in circles, and when it comes to a close with “Syllabus Dot/Episode Rot,” there’s no closure – it simply stops, vanishing into itself with 6 seconds of silence. Whatever (Brains) you want to call it, this record doesn’t merely command your attention, it demands it – it’s not only a great record in its own right, this band is one of the few out there that’s actually breathing new life into punk, which is by itself something to marvel at.
PRE-ORDER: Sorry State Records