We can hardly control our own bodies, let alone our lives as a whole, yet we strive for control through logic and free-thinking, constantly reflecting on the “what ifs” that will never be. When emotions get involved, we start dwelling on how frustrating, unfair, and uncontrollable life can be. Brainiac are the epitome of this kind of frustration. They had a tragically unrecognized career marked by obscurity and death in spite of enormous talent, yet they represent the very principle that could break the cycle I just described once and for all: life would be better if we were all robots.
Rooted on territory built by Devo, Suicide, and The Screamers, Brainiac didn’t sound like any of those bands; in fact, they had a characteristic sound while never repeating themselves throughout their short but impeccable career. From the pop leanings of early singles and their debut, Smack Bunny Baby, to the less traditional Bonsai Superstar and the more desperate songwriting heard on Hissing Prigs of Static Couture, each approach was handled with skill and dexterity. Their use of keyboards culminated on their last release, the Electro-Shock for President EP, where we also hear a timbre slightly more somber than the rest of their output.
Brainiac’s appeal wasn’t just the use of Moogs and other synths, the guitar interplay between the late Tim Taylor and Michelle Bodine on their early stuff was quite inventive, and the rhythm section marched in a way that was both mechanical but faulty enough to suggest grooves without being traditionally funky. They may have relied on common instrumentation and forms, but they did so in a way few others bands have achieved. Perhaps this is why they weren’t as big in their time nor has their legend grown in subsequent years; they were, to quote Hunter S. Thompson, “…Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” Also too good for this world.