Friday, 2 October 2015

THE BRAINIAC 5 – EXPLODING UNIVERSE (Reckless Records CD/D/L).

Evolving from the free festival freakscene of the early 70s and emerging from Penzance via Mars sometime in 1977, The Brainiac 5 were yet another great 70s Psych Rock band that crashed to earth at the wrong time……too late to be part of 60s/70s psychedelic scene and a few years too early to be swept up by the early 80s Neo-Psych revival. Infused by punk attitude but also fuelled by the psilocybin mushrooms growing naturally in abundance locally The Brainiac 5 initially made a name for themselves on the isolated yet thriving Cornish pub, club and festival scene. Like a heady blend of The Soft Boys and Floating Anarchy era Here and Now, their tremendous 1978 debut record, The Mushy Doubt EP, was a wondrous melting pot of punk and acid rock that drew not only on the Pistols short sharp shock attack and the futuristic dub explorations of Lee Scratch Perry but also the dreamy guitar improvisations of 60s San Francisco bands like Country Joe & The Fish and Quicksilver Messenger Service. With the EP coming to the attention of the NME receiving an excellent review (“What is happening down in Penzance that the rest of us don’t know about; a psychedelic revival? Methinks we haven’t heard the last of Los Brainiacs.”) and also finding instant favour with John Peel who played tracks from Mushy Doubt regularly on his show, the band made the move to London to enjoy the fruits of a gig circuit enlivened by the rush of new exciting bands. Yet despite gigging regularly and sharing stages with The Soft Boys and The Barracudas, The Brainiac 5 really did not fit anywhere in the musical landscape at the time….too weird for a punk audience and too punk for a head audience, they struggled to get a decent record deal and with the band worn down by their London experience they split before their debut album World Inside could be released, just another case of a band being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At this point The Brainiac 5 were destined to become just a footnote in history, however following the breakup of the band singer/guitarist Charles Taylor had founded the very successful secondhand vinyl store Reckless Records (still thriving today with not only a branch in London but in also three more in Chicago) and by 1988 the record label arm of the shop had been created. The first release on the label (which was also responsible for releases by such psych legends as Bevis Frond, Black Sun Ensemble and Mu) was the World Inside album, which finally saw the light of day eight years after it had been recorded and in the intervening years the band’s cachet has grown and they have now been recognised as one of the fore-runners of the 80s psychedelic revival alongside such outfits as Robyn Hitchcock’s The Soft Boys and the Manchester band Colours Out Of Time. Fast forward to 2013 and in the midst of a worldwide psych explosion The Brianiac 5 have reformed, hooked up with their longtime engineer/mixer ex Hawkwind drummer Martin Griffin and dusted down some of their unrecorded tunes……… The Sun Ra inspired Space Is The Place 10” vinyl EP is released on Shagrat Records and is described as “an unholy marriage of vintage San Francisco psychedelic ballroom rock and the spirit of the Roxy Club at its 1976 height, taking a honeymoon somewhere down Canterbury way” garnering lavish reviews from the likes of The Wire and Shindig!. This is swiftly followed by the essential When Silence Was Sound, the complete recorded work of The Brainiac 5 between 1977 and 1980 released on the reactivated Reckless Records and receiving similar praise as the Space Is The Place EP from Mojo, Record Collector, R2 and Vive Le Rock magazines.  Which brings us to the here and now and the recent release of Exploding Universe……. their first album in 35 years.

Featuring ten new songs, Exploding Universe sees The Brainiac’s maintain their old free-wheeling free festival vibe, still bouncing between musical styles like a hyperactive child, but they are now mellower and reflective, seeing the universe through older, wiser eyes; benefitting from 35 years of hindsight and improved musicianship. Sax and flute have now been added and a wider range of musical styles mined, yet this is still clearly very much a Brainiac 5 record, brimming with energy and invention. Even now they are difficult to categorise………..still too spiky and abrasive to be considered a head band but still too far out to be labelled punk……..in other words a typical festival band who you can either trip out with or get yer freakout on to and dance like a lunatic. The songs range from the quirky Post Punk feel of ‘Haphazard!’ and the contemplative ‘Ordinary Man’, through the On-U Sound groove of ‘Empty And Blue’ where The Brainiac’s channel Tackhead, Strange Parcels and particularly the funky Blues of Little Axe, on to the gentle skanking meets face melting SF Acid Rock monstersStars Plan Ahead’ and ‘Exorcist Plan’. As before, few areas are truly off limits as they navigate their Psych Punk blueprint through the neighbourhoods of Funk, Reggae and Jazz on what is their most adventurous, yet focused, recording yet. One major departure from the sound of the early Brainiac 5 records is the serene ‘The Beauty Of It All’, a beautiful piece of 60s style psychedelia that brings to mind Traffic at their best and is possibly a pointer to yet another genre The Brainiac 5 will be exploring in the future. Exploding Universe is a strange trip and is fine stuff for freaks everywhere…………..The Brainiac 5 are holding a funky space jazz punky reggae party and you are all invited.

Exploding Universe is out now on Reckless Records and is available to buy on CD/download from Amazon and the Reckless Records stores in London and Chicago will no doubt be stocking copies of it. Check out the bands Bandcamp page to hear a stream of the record. The album is distributed by Shellshock in the UK so you may be able to get your local indie store to get hold of a copy for you. The excellent When Silence Was Sound is also available on CD from the same places.


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