Right around the time neighbors Guided by Voices were emerging from obscurity into critical darlingdom, this crack(ed) Dayton quartet reached into Ohio’s rich musical history (can you say Devo? Pere Ubu? Rocket From the Tombs?) for a handful of back-to-the-futuristic cool wave influences. And it was good.
Really good. Armed with a Realistic Moog synthesizer and aggressive, unforgettable stage presence, frontman Tim Taylor led the outfit on a series of early tours supporting better-known colleagues like the Jesus Lizard and Girls Against Boys, whose Eli Janney twisted the knobs on Brainiac’s first three albums. On Smack Bunny Baby, titles like “Martian Dance Invasion” and “I, Fuzzbot” are sure clues to the group’s arty approach to new wave. Taylor’s Moog is another key, furiously punctuating the menacing playfulness. The best tracks — “Cultural Zero,” “Ride,” “Draag,” “Get Away” — cleverly deconstruct early new wave, using what the band likes, discarding the rest and adding its own innovative ideas to the process. A solid effort from a young band still in its formative stages.
Slathered in schizoid punk, synth belches, abstract noise compositions and rhythmic heat, Bonsai Superstar is a tour de force. From the herky-jerky spazz of “Hot Metal Dobermans” and “Hands of the Genius” to the sexy “Flypaper” and “Fucking With the Altimeter” to the Moog/samples-damaged “Transmissions After Zero,” the album is engaging, frenetic and fucked up in all the right ways. Blasting garbled, catchy pop, Taylor sounds soulful, affected and completely lost in his art, especially on “Sexual Frustration,” “To the Baby-Counter,” “Radio Apeshot” and “Status: Choke.” The arrival of guitarist John Schmersal (replacing Michelle O’Dean, aka Michelle Bodine, now of O-matic) brings a more formidable attacker who takes the band to a truly otherworldly level of discordant tunings and staccato structures. Bassist Juan Monasterio and drummer Tyler Trent form a relentless foundation for his skronk and Taylor’s manic disorder. Here’s one band that’s intelligently reconfigured new wave with an eye toward the future as well as the past. Internationale is a three-song EP of new material (none of it repeated on the subsequent LP) “decoded” by Kim Deal of the Breeders/Amps.
Delivering on the promise of Bonsai Superstar, Brainiac turns in another spastic gem with Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, a white-hot slab of new wave dada-punk. In electrifying performances with more Moog and more freaky vocals, Brainiac squawks out new sonic oddities (“I Am a Cracked Machine,” “Pussyfootin’,” “Hot Seat Can’t Sit Down,” “Kiss Me, U Jacked Up Jerk”) and, in “Indian Poker [Part 2],” manages to sound like the children’s electronic toy, Simon.
Guitarist Michelle Bodine formed O-matic in 1994 with bassist Rob Tarbell, guitarist/brother Scott Bodine and drummer Will Gates. With studio advice from Dayton pals like Kim Deal and Mitch Mitchell (Guided by Voices), a car-culture fetish and a bunch of overdriven, guitar-fueled songs, Dog Years is more straight-ahead than Brainiac but no less wild.
On May 23, 1997, Tim Taylor died in a car crash and Brainiac came to an end.