3 out of 5
Label: Grass Records
Produced by: Eli Janney
When I say that I love Brainiac, I have to face up to that that love is very much centered around Bonsai Superstar, still one of the most unique albums ever made. I have listened to all of Brainiac’s official releases rather obsessively, but Superstar gets the wealth of the attention, and it’s pretty likely that I wouldn’t have such enthusiasm for the remainder of there releases without that disc in their catalogue. I recognize that there’s a narrative that pitches the group as having been cut-off on the cusp of big things – with the unfortunate passing of lead Tim Taylor – but I guiltily turn away, and mutter that Electro-Shock for President, though cutting edge at the time, took the group towards a more fully electronic direction that nonetheless seemed more familiar and accessible than the completely out-there skronk of Superstar. I’d further cite that guitarist John Schmersal, once off in his own direction, followed a similar trajectory of weird-to-less-weird, as Enon became exceedingly poppy, i.e. there was lightning in a bottle: Taylor’s quirked lyrics, offbeat melodies, and unique employment of keyboards into the group’s punk rock slop mixed with John’s imagination-stretching guitarwork , and encouraged genre-crossing bizarre genius on Bonsai… that started to take more shape on followup releases.
And before Schmersal, all those Taylor elements are there, but they’re limited by a blanket of What If potential. The Brainiac of Smack Bunny Baby is weird, but very recognizable as rock, still, with the Moog additions funky but kind of tacked on, and Taylor’s flip-flopping between oddball references and more typical angsty lyrics seemingly somewhat similarly affected without the layer of foreign and roboticized sounds that came with John and the following album. You can hear this nigh-desire to be Nirvana, or of the grunge zeitgeist, but then a swerve towards staying strange; Eli Janney’s production brings the fuzz of Girls Against Boys, but also the same wishy-washy balance of part-hardcore, part-radio ready groove their post-Venus Luxure albums employed.
Again, incredibly promising, but I don’t know that it’d be especially notable without what followed. It’s surely a fun record, and a required addition to the unfortunately small Brainiac library, but I think would qualify more as an occasional listen – catchy tunes; some bright moments of weirdness – between other standout albums of the era… for which Bonsai absolutely qualifies.