Album Of The Week: Demos by Brain Drain

 In Reviews

The phrase “pristine garage rock” may convey the wrong image about Brain Drain‘s debut EP, but the dichotomy that it provokes tells you everything you need to know about these six songs. Demos is, in fact, pristine, a shining example of the treasures found within the confines of rock performed in a dressed down, meager space. But nothing about garage rock has ever or will ever be pristine in its more common meaning, even when funneled through a tight and polished producer. Don’t worry — this EP doesn’t have that pedigree, being written, recorded, mixed, and mastered by the band’s three members in a way that seems less adherent to DIY principles, and more a byproduct of wanting to convey exactly what that garage space feels like to its listeners, whether real or metaphorical. This is garage rock at its core — rabid, harmonic, agitated, and unbelievably powerful.

Like any modern garage sound, you’re not just getting a fuzzed out release of pent-up anger and frustration. Sure, the proto-punk energy is there, but so is the subtle surf sound — found in the drum pattern of “Avoid The Plague” to the guitar solo of “No Thing” — and the rockabilly cadence — found in the driving “Primal” or the scampering “Aliens.” This all allows the band to proudly evolve beyond the initial riff-chorus approach that appeals to so many garage tenants, deftly rising above the pack and showing that this isn’t a band settling into a sound based off their own limitations, but because of their own inclinations and convictions.

Often times on the record, the lyrics take a backseat to the music. There’s just something coercive and energetic about the music, yanking your mind in its direction, while the words are much more simplistic and reticent, almost shying away from the spotlight. Even as Alexa Tavares’ voice sears and soars here, your mind is drawn more to the pitch and tone of her voice than what’s actually being said. Still, there are some truly arresting lines found within Demos. “What is it about me / that I have to prove to you?” from “No Thing” opens the EP up and quickly establishes the chip-on-a-shoulder mentality the band holds, one where they’ve clearly got something to say and they’re very clearly going to do everything possible to make you hear it even if you can’t quite fathom it yet. (That particularly feels inspiring in the wake of the progressive wave America is experiencing.)

The opening line to “Bitches And Stitches” — “I want to see / I want to feel / I want to be / I want to scream” — is particularly striking, making a good case for the hyper-emotional aspect of living being just as vital as anything else, almost as another sense needed to experience life to the fullest. And then there’s the couplet “Everything I watch / everyday’s in static” from “Aliens” which is just a very simple yet relatable way to examine hyper, super, or even modernity in 2018. David Foster Wallace would have a field day with that song.

Top to bottom, this is a record that just excels on the X factor of the three musicians and their collective energy. Nick Morrison’s guitar is a fuzzed out, surfy conduit for the band’s precipitous energy (“Primal”). Nathan Kidd’s drumming is elemental yet consonant, pushing and prodding every little note and inflection to its limit even when reduced to just pitter-patters on a cymbal (“Avoid The Plague). And Alexa Taveras is just the personification of impulsive contempt — catchy when she wants to be, caustic when she needs to be, and always compelling like the person who seizes a megaphone at a protest and unloads so defiantly and passionately that you can’t help but admire her (“Drownin’”).

Even though it’s surely meant in the more colloquial musical sense, Demos is an apt title here. This is a true demonstration of garage rock — all of its virtues, all of its blemishes, and all of its command offered up in unapologizing fashion. It can ignite a fire under your apathy or help release your most impassioned emotions, all the while providing you endless enjoyment and distorted bliss no matter how many times you listen. On my end, I can tell you nothing about this release slows down after its 10th listen and I’m patiently awaiting the next 10, which I’m going to dive into right now.

Brain Drain plays next in Richmond on November 29th at Yellowhouse alongside We Call This Courage, Cam And Friends, and Two Cars.

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