1996: Brainiac - Hissing Prigs in Static Couture

Hailing from the mythical land of Dayton, Ohio, Brainiac were produced by Kim Deal, Steve Albini, and Eli Janney (of Girls Against Boys) and opened for Beck, The Jesus Lizard, and The Breeders, among others. From 1992 to 1997, they spit vitriol into the vast ocean of post-grunge bile, creating a discography that stands eternally poised at the nexus of the 90s, both temporally and aesthetically. There was a lot of space to explore in the void between Nirvana and the new millennium, and Brainiac's body of work suggests a lateral detour that has yet to be pursued to its end. Hissing Prigs in Static Couture (a.k.a. H1551ng Pr1g5 in Stat1c Coutur3) was their final LP and penultimate release due to the unexpected death of lead singer Tim Taylor.

However embroiled the band may have been in their particular cultural climate, they never shared their generational aversion to unabashed flamboyance. After a blurry warm-up track, "Pu55yfoot1n'" cuts loose like a cartoon boogie band riffing on The Sonics' classic nugget "The Witch." Taylor's strutting, flippant falsetto doesn't belong to any frontman lineage known to this writer; Roger Rabbit's half-brained mania is the unlikely analogue that comes to mind. Other voices that possess Taylor on "Pu55yfootin" and throughout Hissing Prigs include a vaguely German guttural, a top-shelf grunge groan, and a rapey Reznor whisper. Irreverent, snide, insane? Yes to all. And before you can fish your monocle out of your martini -- incoming -- "Vincent Come on Down" swoops in like a misfiring altbot, the guitar, bass, drums, and moog in disciplined discord. The production is thoroughly post-grunge, but structurally and performance-wise, the song outdoes neo-garage bands like The Hives at their own game before they even thought they had invented it. Taylor's voices talk over, under, and around each other like a sonic CAT scan of a late 20th century schizoid man. And Hissing Prigs keeps this violent pace for 13 tracks and 35 minutes, slowing only for a few short experimental tracks that act as atmospheric stabilizers.

Album closer "1 Am a Crack3d Machine" is heavy enough for the stadium, a tune that starts low and only accelerates lower, forcing the willing listener face down into the muck to taste pure, absolving shit. By the time Taylor delivers the couplet "Muhowwwwowwohoh!/ The first time I forced myself to be real!" as if he were Kurt eyeing his collection of shotguns, the listener knows that the band is unequivocally a well-oiled, structurally sound rawk machine. Just what it is they are crack3d over about remains conspicuously unclear. It's to their credit that they subscribe to the Albini method of production -- guitar up, vox down -- because, when intelligible, the lyrics are largely inane. Here's the military chant that occurs two-thirds of the way through "V1ncent Com3 on Down": "Two four six eight/ Tell me who I'm supposed to hate/ Get with the two step/ Tell me it's a two-step process." Indeed, what are these post-collegiate midwesterners directing their anger at exactly? The Digital Age? Jocks? The System? The answer Hissing Prigs gives is that they're smart alecks, indiscriminately rebelling against whatever they want to, and doing it with intense rock ‘n’ roll precision. Score one for Brainiac. Still, a dialogue from the Simpsons Homerpalooza episode surfaces in my mind: "Are you being ironic?" "I don't even know anymore."

"K1ss Me U Jacked Up J3rk" is a litmus test for listeners who haven't a stomach for the sillier side of alternative. It finds Taylor exploring the inherent humor of the Spanish language, pronouncing "chihuahua-huahua-huahua" like Sancho Panza at Taco Bell. It's bothersome not because it's offensive, but because it's insipidness is so at odds with the musical messages being sent out. It's hard as a listener to give a record the proper love it needs when its makers feel that rock is but a joke. Yet, the band's talents are such that after a labyrinthine series of choruses and sub-choruses, you know the song is about more than a Zorro-themed porno, even if they say otherwise.

The early-to-mid-90s explosion in underground rock culture gave birth to countless forgettable acts, whose dull malaise was as often summed up by grainy black and white cover art of things that were inordinately hairy. Not this one. Everything about Brainiac is provocative -- from Taylor, to their synthetic blips and screeches, to their inventive spelling and bizarro imagination. However, the broadly facetious tone resounding throughout Hissing Prigs never fully congeals with its spirit of 95 sound. Their final release, the Electro-Shock for President EP, resolves this tension by abandoning guitars entirely for electronic instrumentation. Hissing Prigs, however, is the more endearing release, precisely because it is less consistent and frankly because it rocks. It would come as no great shock if the bands forming today with that gen-x guitar sound start finding something endearing and instructive in this strange, singular band.

1. 1nd1an Poker (Part 3)
2. Pu55yfoot1n'
3. V1nc3nt Come on Down
4. Th1s L1ttle P1ggy
5. Strun6
6. Hot 53at Can't 5it Down
7. Th3 Vul6ar Trad3
8. B33k33per's Maxim
9. K1ss Me, U Jacked Up J3rk
10. 70 K9 Man
11. 1nd1an Pok3r (Part 2)
12. Nothing 3v3r changes
13. 1 am a Cracked Machin3

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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