RECORD COLLECTOR REVIEW:
Rejuvenated elder statesmen The Brainiac 5 return with their second album since their 2012 reformation. Journey To X (****) sounds a little like the meeting point between Robert Calvert-era Hawkwind, Man, Television and The Bevis Frond. Jon 'Jojo' Mills
SOUNDS MAGAZINE REVIEW:
ALTERED FREQUENCIES REVIEW:
Emerging in the mid-70s out of the UK’s isolated yet thriving South-Western scene, the Brainiac 5 relocated to London, where their Mushy Doubt EP had already caused a stir. Sharing stages with the likes of The Soft Boys and The Barracudas and finding fans in John Peel and Alex Chilton, they split before their debut album World Inside was released through celebrated psych label Reckless.
If you are thinking that this is going to be a punk album, you’re wrong, if you think that it’s a prog album, you’d still be wrong, it’s got rock, prog, punk, psych and a touch of freak out all mixed together…yeah I know…what the hell, but it works. It has songs as short as “Endless River pt.1,” at only 01:05, songs as long as “The Human Scapegoat,” which clocks in at a staggering 12:10! Starting with “Endless River pt.1,” the band gives us an opener that is very much a ’60s sound that you would think that you picked up the wrong album, but it actually makes sense since the light psych of the song leads into “The Human Scapegoat,” which goes from psych to punk/noise, into a gentle almost lullaby, then back to the psych/prog sound and it’s an epic track to say the least since it flows so well. “Laura Riding” is my favourite song on here with its nod to the glam sound of Bowie and Roxy Music. “At Noon” is a straight forward pop song that has a great chilled out feel to it. “The World Inside” has a smooth jazz sound with the amazing vocals by Jessie Pie, and some terrific guitar playing. “Some Things” has cool harmonica playing and a tougher rock sound like Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).” Last song “Kill It” keeps that sound and feel going with a tight groove and more of that great guitar playing.
For a band that has been doing music on and off for around forty years, this is as fresh sounding as a new band, and it’s great to hear them taking chances and doing things that other bands could never emulate. I need to go hunt down their older music now, while I’m doing that, you go out and get this one…and play it a lot.
DANCING WITH ARCHITECTURE REVIEW:
Things I like: Weird pop music. Intelligent lyrics. Bands that stick two fingers up to the idea that rock and roll is a young man’s game. Musical ideas that have no business being in the same song. Existentialism. Genuine punk attitudes. Proggy landscapes delivered in bite sized chunks. Lists. And for all the reasons just given, The Brainiac 5.
I signed off my review of their previous outing, Exploding Universe, with the line “and if this album is anything to go by, this is where things start getting really interesting” and I have hardly ever written a truer or more understated line, for this new gathering of musical outpourings is interesting and then some. Playing with a slightly straighter bat this time out, the Five who in true Thompson Twins fashion are a four-piece, hang their sound on a psych-punk guitar frame but like most things in their musical world, things are never that simple.
The Human Scapegoat wanders some experimental pathways, which eschew form, fashion and indeed perceived wisdom regarding track length, but instead mine some rich, dark and trippy musical seams. Some Things warps groovesome swampy, tribal blues into a raw, garage rock anthem and there is even room for a touch of smoky, lounge jazz haziness with The World Inside.
The lyrics have a wonderful depth, drawing inspiration from Robert Graves, The Golden Bough and ancient rituals to the rebirth of the post-apocalyptic society and everything in between, and the music is no less grand in its scope, juggling psych, pop, punk, prog, jazz, blues plus blasts of African rhythms and spacey noodlings throwing curve balls along the way.
If ever there was a bridge between punk and prog then this is it. If ever there was a band that proves that the best things come to those who wait, again you can tick that box. It is odd to think of The Brainiac 5 as an emerging band, especially given their collective time served before the creative mast but I really think that the band are currently riding a wonderful upward momentum, one that they missed out on first time around. It is going to be fascinating to see just where it takes them.
What is it with artists from the seventies/eighties returning after a long hiatus with excellent material to unleash on an unsuspecting public? The last few years have been littered with many such bands and solo singers- The Distractions, John Howard, Bill Fay, The Pop Group, The Slits to name a few- who have new releases that match if not better the critically acclaimed music of their first incarnation. To that list you can add The Brainiac 5.
There’s quite a pedigree to the band with singer/guitarist/songwriter Charlie Taylor being a founder member of the band which released an EP and single in the mid 70’s of music that was a heady mix of the outgoing prog rock and the incoming punk movement. The band split before the debut album ‘World Inside’ was released, with Taylor eventually settling in the US for a number of years. Guitarist Duncan Kerr, who also contributes to song writing, was a member of Nottingham based pub rockers Plummet Airlines who released a single on Stiff Records called ‘Silver Shirt’ (more recently covered by Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby) and an album before splitting. He was a member of Darts for a while and more recently has added some excellent guitar work to last years ‘Flower of London’ by Proudfoot. Drumming on that album was Joe Malone, who now fills the drum stool for The Brainiac 5. Original bassist John ‘Woody’ Wood returns to complete the rhythm section and add kalimba, harmonica and jews harp to the mix.
The original sound has now been expanded, taking in a variety of influences that have shaped the music and added fresh impetus and ideas to the mix. Lyrically things have developed and moved on with several songs featuring or being inspired by a diverse range of poets.
The laid back opening ‘Endless River Part 1’ gently eases us into proceedings with harmonies and strummed acoustic lulling us into a false sense of calm before the 12 minute ‘The Human Scapegoat’ is unleashed. At this point I have to admit I have no idea what happened to ‘Endless River Part 2’, presumably you can only have one endless river as there’d be no water left for another one…
‘The Human Scapegoat’ is an ambitious piece both musically and lyrically and doesn’t out stay a single second of its welcome despite its length. The opening guitar sound is one of those dense, threatening riffs that spiral menacingly in a very Neil Young and Crazy Horse kind of way. The rest of the song takes many twists and turns during its course, one passage featuring a doom laden riff underpinning some frenetic Fripp-like fretwork. There’s also a kind of interlude of percussive instrumentation, a choral backing, a return to the opening guitar sound and an outro that is so far away from what has preceded for you to think it’s been beamed in from another song by mistake. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics yet- apparently they include translations of ancient Mespotamian poems and relate to tribes choosing their King to rule for a year before being sacrificed to ensure a successful harvest. Add in the misguided progress of the human race through mechanisation which eventually leads to self-destruction and we have a song that would make a good HBO mini-series to match Game of Thrones. Thankfully, there is a happy ending, with the survivors returning to a simpler, more natural way of life- perhaps a positive notion to take away with us in the dark days of Trump.
Inevitably, ‘Laura Riding’ is almost a pause for breath, though is still fascinating in its depiction of the writings and thoughts of the author of the song title, taking in as it does the idea that mind control can stop wars. This is all backed by the kind of slightly off mind expanded boogie that Welsh band Man excelled at. There’s an exasperation at the world in general in ‘At Noon’ with the belief that there’s no purpose in life as it stands, while the following ‘The World Inside’ features guest vocalist Jessie Pie playing the soulful jazz diva to a lounge jazz backing punctuated with some punchy guitar work and backing vocals which remind this listener of some of Vic Godard’s efforts in a similar style, which is of course a good thing.
There’s a further change in pace and style with the glam stomp and swagger of ‘Some Things’ which extolls the virtues of good communication and features some excellent harmonica from Woody. Just as you think you’ve reached the climax and outro it appears to think better of things and tag another outro on the end before fading.
The sleeve notes to the final track ‘Kill It’ ask the question kill what? Inappropriate obsessions apparently, to which you can read what you will. It’s another 10 minute plus track with not a note wasted. Similar to ‘The Human Scapegoat’ in that it goes off several directions, sometimes at the same time, and features more excellent guitar work- the spirit of Wishbone Ash, Television and the aforementioned Man are all apparent in the long instrumental passages, though with more attack and bite. It’s a grand and breathless way to finish an album full of virtuosity and intrigue. Don’t leave it another 30 odd years eh lads?
THE BRAINIAC 5
Journey To X
Reckless Records Cat No. RECKCD/LP/DL104
Distributed by Shellshock
Rejuvenated psych-explorers THE BRAINIAC 5 return with Journey To X, their second full-length outing since their 2012 reunification. Buoyed by the success of 2015’s Exploding Universe, and an appearance on Cherry Red's acclaimed Another Splash Of Colour psych box set, the band have made a quick return to Alchemy Studios in North London and with the help of producer and engineer Kenny Jones and the arrival of new drummer Joe Malone, have stripped back to the two guitars, bass and drums format of past glories, yet continue to move forward with renewed energy and fresh ideas.
Say the band, “After experimenting with sax and flute for our last album, we thought that this time we would revert to our core four-piece psych/punk guitar orientated template. With the introduction of the powerhouse drumming of Joe Malone, we’ve certainly come up with some blistering music in this vein. However, somewhere along the journey we seem to have also wandered off on some other new paths. A touch of the smoky jazz cellar and African influences, a slight nod to country-blues and beyond. With lyrics inspired and influenced by Elizabeth Jennings, Robert Graves and The Golden Bough, we think this makes for a heady and intriguing mix, yet still all somehow manages to sound like The Brainiac 5. The journey has been exciting and fulfilling and has resulted in what we feel is our most complete and accomplished work to date.”
Emerging in the mid-70s out of the UK’s isolated yet thriving South-Western scene, the Brainiac 5 relocated to London, where their Mushy Doubt EP had already caused a stir. Sharing stages with the likes of The Soft Boys and The Barracudas and finding fans in John Peel and Alex Chilton, they split before their debut album World Inside was released through celebrated psych label Reckless (Bevis Frond, Black Sun Ensemble, Mu).
With frontman Charlie Taylor returning from years in the US, the Brainiacs reconvened, resulting in 2013’s Sun Ra-inspired Space Is The Place EP which garnered effusive reviews from the likes of The Wire and Shindig! The following year’s When Silence Was Sound anthology and the all-new Exploding Universe also received praise from Mojo, Record Collector, R2 and Vive Le Rock magazines, as well as from psych and outsider websites around the world. Journey To X is simultaneously issued on CD, download and deluxe 180g gatefold vinyl.
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