BRAINIAC: SMACK BUNNY BABY (1993)
1) I, Fuzzbot; 2) Ride; 3) Smack Bunny Baby; 4) Martian Dance Invasion; 5) Cultural Zero; 6) Brat Girl; 7) Hurting Me; 8) I Could Own You; 9) Anesthesize; 10) Draag; 11) Get Away.
All right, so despite their name, Brainiac weren't exactly the most original band to come out of the whole underground-indie-alternative bouillon of the early 1990s. There may be a good reason, or even more than one, why their three albums have been relegated to the «connaisseur» shelf, pardon my French again, and why the memory of Sonic Youth, Pixies, Nirvana, and Radiohead will linger long after the last real brainiac has emptied his recycle bin containing Smack Bunny Baby, Bonsai Superstar, and Hissing Prigs In Static Couture. After all, not everybody can be so lucky — wherever that bus is going, the number of seats is always limited.
But none of that prevents me from actually liking these guys: I think their records are fun, and their creative angle is actually quite unique, even if it does not make a lot of sense. Basically, they were surrealistically aggressive punkers with an electronic coating — but a retro electronic coating at that, with the band's leader Tim Taylor playing a Moog as his instrument of choice. Now, quickly, off the top of your head, how many punk bands with Moog synths can you name? (I mean, other than Emerson, Lake & Palmer, of course?) Not too many — even though, come to think of it, the Moog can be as in-yer-face punk as any stringed electric instrument.
So, as the album kicks out the door, for the first twenty-five seconds you feel like you're listening to a Pixies clone — a little introductory noise and a droney guitar riff played at full throttle. But as the vocals make their appearance, they are accompanied with a series of fussy electronic noises that sound as if they've been taken from some arcade experience — hilariously deconstructing any «authentic» anger and aggression that may have been placed in the song. ʽI, Fuzzbotʼ could have worked even without these quasi-Pacman bleeps and bloops, but its frantic "GET OUT OF MY MIND!" chorus just sounds way too much like Black Francis for the band to escape being branded as copycats. Add some of these ridiculous electronics, though, and you get something seriously different — and bizarrely intriguing.
Most of the songs here work at the intersection of energetic and inspired, but utterly unoriginal alt-rock guitar riffage; Tim Taylor's vocal hooks in the choruses, which can be catchy, but do not differ that much from any other repetitive, screamy choruses in punk history; and the use of electronics, formally «superfluous», never truly essential to the songs' basic structures, but always serving as their main identificator — after a brief period of initiation, you will never mistake a Brainiac song for anything else, because the bleeping, howling, wheezing, wailing Moogs give them away at a moment's notice.
Lyrically, Brainiac are also not too different from the usual punk/alt-rock territories — their songs are mostly about pain, confusion, insanity, lack/loss of self-identity, most of the topics revolving somewhere in between the dangerous anguish of Kurt Cobain and the surrealist paranoia of Black Francis. But since the tempos are consistently fast, the guitars are consistently loud, and the vocals consistently rise to a scream, you probably won't be able to make out most of the lyrics anyway, and why should you? This band is all about finding out how cool a punk-rock guitar can sound in a formerly alien context — sort of a «Mini-Sonatas for Pissed-Off Electric Guitar and Moog Synth» experiment, and quite a successful one, in my opinion, even if most of the songs seem so similar, if you discount occasional individualistic vocal gimmicks (like the creative use of the "nah-nah nah nah-nah-nah" teaser in ʽCultural Zeroʼ or the horrorific voice-and-synth sonic meld in ʽDraagʼ which gives me awful visions of a person mutating into a synthesizer — quite a productive idea for a musical video, I'd say).
Other than Tim Taylor, the band does not have any creative quasi-geniuses at this point, but guitarist Michelle Bodine ain't half-bad (since Taylor is also credited for guitar playing, I have no idea how many of the riffs are actually played by her, but she must have been the primary guitar player during the band's live shows anyway) and she has a strong Riot Grrrl-type voice as well — too bad they only let her sing lead on one track (the aptly titled ʽMartian Dance Invasionʼ, since nobody would be surprised if the Martians chose Brainiac as their favorite dance music). On the whole, definitely not bad for a first try for someone hailing from Dayton, Ohio — they may not be bursting with creativity, but their one fresh idea works well enough for 36 minutes (and do thank God that they respect the punk aesthetics enough not to let it run for 70, despite living in an age when the new CD format was poisoning everybody's brains). Thumbs up for sure.