Taking Baader Brains for some sort of throwback might be easy upon first look, considering their name is a portmanteau of Bad Brains and Red Army Faction leader Andreas Baader (with the removal and study of Baader’s brain post-mortem by German authorities providing the additional entendre). But just because their name is derived from the sort of highly visible figures from recent history that have been the bread and butter of academia and documentarians alike doesn’t mean that the band itself trades in any sort of retrospection.
Baader Brains – New Era Hope Colony (Clean Plate Records)
Taking Baader Brains for some sort of throwback might be easy upon first look, considering their name is a portmanteau of Bad Brains and Red Army Faction leader Andreas Baader (with the removal and study of Baader’s brain post-mortem by German authorities providing the additional entendre). But just because their name is derived from the sort of highly visible figures from recent history that have been the bread and butter of academia and documentarians alike doesn’t mean that the band itself trades in any sort of retrospection. The members themselves have been in some of the more forward-thinking punk bands of the past two decades, from Swing Kids to Mothercountry Motherfuckers, and Baader Brains are no exception. Their sophomore release refines the ragged Born Against-isms of their 2007 album The Complete Unfinished Work Of Young Tigers without tempering any of its vicious energy, unpredictable structure, or unconventional political slant.
The band’s approach is comprised of two component elements; part fast hardcore, part sample-based interlude. The faster, more aggressive moments demonstrate everything that can be done right with this sort of music. The structures aren’t predictable verse-chorus punk, instead opting for a frantic thrashy hardcore frame overlaid with strange, almost psychedelic noisy elements, alongside mass vocal parts that sound less like the conventional punk rock singalong and more like a drill sergeant’s call and response. The interludes are one of the most direct carryovers from any of the members’ previous bands, having been a primary component of guitarist Sarah Kirsch’s previous band Please Inform The Captain This Is A Hijack, but whereas those tended to overlay dusty groove soul samples with revolutionary agitprop, the agenda here is less direct. Folky acoustic passages, Venom stage banter, and stuttering T. Rex loops all underpin coded communiques and bits about Antarctic ice stations to form a picture that’s far less explicit in its intent, but offers hints of the band’s larger agenda, each piece a small shard in an allegorical mosaic.
This agenda is somewhat more explicitly laid out in the liner notes, with a sealed manifesto-like letter from the Young Tiger Organization. This organization is a fictional cadre bound up in the band’s identity (though, if all the band’s members are represented by their analogues within this other group, there’s a certain degree of truth to the latter’s existence, at least in the sense of it being more of a metaphor than a fiction). Couched in the language of revolutionary verbiage, the Young Tiger Organization’s letter decries the commodification of the spirit that erodes any sort of creative counterculture, and the manner in which participants’ nostalgia produces little more than empty carbon copies of past glory. Though the lyrics in turn excoriate this same co-opting, the context isn’t a cut and dried condemnation but rather is framed as a larger battle, set several centuries in the future, between the Young Tigers and a monolithic centralized manufacturer of cultural capital (complete with its own invented historical figures and events coexisting with those of our recent past).
It’s a strange approach, one that might prove somewhat confusing to a listener expecting a band so entrenched in radical politics to toe a direct ideological line, but there’s an implicit consistency that may not at first be readily apparent. The whole basis of the album was a break from the confines of expectations dictated by the past, a forward momentum achieved through varied means – the skewing of familiar signifiers, the riffing on revolutionary rhetoric, or even something as blunt as placing the album’s context centuries in a hypothetical future rather than engaging in retrospection. And while they’re certainly not divorced from their precendents, as either their band name or the many different touchstones of their approach attest, Baader Brains have taken from their forebears the most important piece of influence – that to be truly memorable, one has to blend bits of inspiration so artfully as to appear seamless. By succeeding at this as completely as they do, the band has demonstrated once more that they’re one of the most interesting punk bands currently in existence, an inimitable creative force that defies easy understanding, but is all the more rewarding for it.