Hi Everyone! I’m back from the land of sheep and snow capped mountains and whisky (without the e) and phone booths in the middle of nowhere, and saying “wee” instead of “little,” and general magical feelings all around! Scotland was SO MUCH FUN, and we even ended up buying some records! We stumbled upon this awesome cafe in the Isle of Skye that also had a vintage-y knick knack shop with art work from only local artists and of course record bins that looked like they hadn’t been combed through in a while. Alex picked out what look like some real gems and jams from the covers alone, I can’t wait until we get to them in the alphabet. I’ll be sure to note when we come across an Ella’s Cafe LP.
But, for now, we must stick to the task at hand, so on to Bad Brains!
Okay, now this is definitely punk music. We are dealing with very loud and fast music that’s kind of muddy with very fast lyrics that I can not understand ONE BIT. But then suddenly a clear sounding electric guitar solo comes in, which is surprising. But just as quickly as it’s there, it fades away. But then the song ends on this calm couple of notes, and then back to VERY VERY FAST. I have no time to recover! My brain feels like a ping pong ball!
I can’t keep up. I feel like I’m missing something, even when I’m sitting here and focusing on the record. The next song also has a fancy electric guitar solo that throws everything off for a minute and then goes back to all sounding exactly the same.
By the time we’re on song 6- (I think) which is called “Banned in DC” this is the first song to sound slightly different from the others. It’s a little slower (I can’t believe I’m calling this slow) and longer and again breaks in with a guitar solo, and then suddenly…it’s reggae music! And not just any reggae, like really mellow and drawn out slow reggae, reggae that sounds like you are floating down a lazy river, a stark contrast to the last 10 minutes or so, which have sounded like turning on the garbage disposal with a bottle cap in it.
It’s like I can breathe all of the sudden. I don’t think I really realized how tense this music was making me feel until the reggae jam came on. The jam has a really sweet sounding guitar playing over a repetitive bassline, occasional drums and some laser-y sounds in the back ground. Ah, sweet relief
Now back the the screaming. Goddammit.
I’m starting to suspect that this music is making Murdock, our cat, act crazy. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but since I’ve put on this album, he’s been running around the house and knocking things over. Just thought I’d point that out.
In all honesty, I’m just not impressed. I am impressed when a sick guitar solo interrupts the fastness and the song gets heavy for a minute or two. This happens on “Supertouch/Shitfit.” And now we’re back to reggae on the last song on side one, “Leaving Babylon.”
I want to like them. There is a small essay on the back of this album written by Ira Kaplan. And I love Yo La Tengo. So, once I realized that he wrote the essay I was like, oh man. It would be cool to be able to say, “I love Bad Brains.” But, I have to stay true to my heart, and my heart is not in this music. I’m sorry Ira, I’m sorry Bad Brains, and I’m sorry “Prophet Ras Bob Marley” (who is thanked in the special thanks section).
So this band is obviously unique. I can tell by the picture on the back cover that all four members are black, and while that’s not surprising when listening to reggae, it’s definitely surprising with this super fast and intense punk music. This last reggae song is the first one with singing on it, and his voice sounds entirely different. I mean, it’s really an entirely different band. I guess this combination makes sense, The Clash had reggae influence and so did Adam Ant. But this isn’t reggae influenced - it’s like straight up reggae. The punk and the reggae remain completely separate. There is no fusion!
Side two is feeling a little different. I think I like “Big Take Over.” It’s like an actual song in that it’s long and has much more of a melody. The next song, “Pay to Cum,” is still super fast and punk but something about it is making me like it more than the other punk songs. Is it because it came on after “Big Take Over?” Is it because Ira calls it, “anthemic”? Am I just getting used to this music? Is it actually better? And then “Right Brigade," is much better too. I think I’m liking these songs better because they are getting longer. You can actually jam to them and hear what’s going on because they slow down a bit. Most of the songs on the first side end just as they’re getting started and they need the kind of jam that "Right Brigade" has that brings the song home. Wait a minute- I can tell within the first few notes- we’re back to reggae with "I Luv I Jah." Still feels alarming.
I ended up liking this album much more on the second side, so much so that I’m actually going to flip it over again and listen to it one more time. This is a first for this project!
I think knowing a little more what to expect the second time around I can actually hear how the songs are all different, and I think I have totally changed my mind. And I’m not just saying that for Ira’s approval! I could very much see putting this on if I was in the right sort of energetic mood, or maybe if I was angry or on a road trip. I could see me and Alex listening to this is the car and singing “Attitude" together, even if we can’t figure out the lyrics.
So guess what? I’ve come around. The very first time listening to the first side- and remember I had no idea what type of music this was going to be when that record started spinning- was hard to take in and off-putting. But then side two started sounding more like a band I could get into, and now on the second listen, they don’t sound quite as angry and aggressive and like they are trying to assault me with their sounds. They still sound raw and super fast, obviously, but I can hear it more as music after taking it all in. And I think that’s perfectly ok. I think I shouldn’t actually be judging all of these albums based on one listen only! Does that mean I have to go back to Albert Ayler? Please don’t make me do that just yet.
Bottom line: It took me a couple of tries, but I really like Bad Brains. Not something I’d want to listen to everyday, but I can definitely see putting them on again. Sorry about what I said about not being impressed before. I wasn’t impressed at first, but you won me over Bad Brains. You totally win.
Alex Says: One of the few benefits of having an older brother was that he cycled through cultural identities very quickly as a teenager, leaving a trail of cassettes in his wake. He got into rap and then punk and hardcore before getting into ska, and then eventually into The Allman Brothers, a pivot that still doesn’t make any sense to me,
Once he left behind his punk/hardcore phase, I suddenly had access to a trove of tapes. Local (to us) bands like Negative Approach and Pitbull, as well as bands like The Misfits, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains. I don’t know why, but Bad Brains just never did it for me as a kid. The bulk of this tape collection was like a base camp from which I ventured out into other bands and other genres. But for some reason I just never gave the Bad Brains record a chance.
As I got older, that insane overwhelming excitement at finding new bands kind of started to dissipate for me, like I was chasing a high that was becoming harder and harder to find. But I guess, like Sarah, I just needed to give Bad Brains another chance. A couple years ago, I decided to pick up the album on vinyl and it was like getting punched in the back of the neck. It’s so alarming! It’s so good. It’s so tight. It’s so cruddy. It’s so perfectly paced. It makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking 20 years ago.
I am so stoked that Sarah imagines a day where we’re singing “attitude” together in the car. I am definitely going to make that a reality.