I have to admit that it has been a while since I had last thought about Brainclaw before 2020. They have jolted back into my view thanks to the sad news that former member Tara Lessard passed away over Christmas, and that appeared to, finally, spur David Giuffre into finishing the long-promised album that I honestly thought would never come.
/But Listen/164/the return of Brainclaw
I originally picked up on the band thanks to the internet, frankly. My early experiences of the internet, certainly in the nineties, was that it was an excellent way to find other like-minded people on forums to talk about music. Improvements in bandwidth availability across the following years meant that it became possible to hear music in reasonable quality, and thanks to that and early social media (yes, Myspace in particular), it became so much easier to find bands from other smaller scenes. Hence, finding Brainclaw.
Giuffre had been releasing music since his college days, but Brainclaw really came to prominence with the excellent Insekt/Angel of 2004, then the perhaps even better Dead Monsters a couple of years later (one offshoot of which is one of the best remixes I’ve ever heard – the Dedman Remix of Dead Monsters). Their sound back then was heavy, electro-industrial, that relied heavily on layers of synths and an awful lot of vocal distortion – but notably eschewing the “Goblin” vocals that has aged so much of the harsher electro-industrial of the time so badly.
Then, some years on, Giuffre returned, ready to release Deceptor. This was 2012, release dates came and went, then in 2014 he announced a partnership with Juggernaut Music (and I was sent a pre-release copy of it at the time, sadly since lost to time). Other things then took precedence at that point – Juggernaut abruptly shut down just as the album was about to be released, Guiffre became a father and concentrated on his day job, and it all went quiet, until the events of the past six months.
What’s remarkable, then, after all this time – lest we forget it is now fourteen years since Dead Monsters – that Deceptor is great, and deserves to be heard.
I’ve listened to the album a lot since release, and a couple of songs in particular leap out. downsect is vintage Brainclaw with new hardware, a bruising, upfront dancefloor-monster that if only there were dancefloors to play it to, I’d be spinning it every week (and yes, it’ll be featured in my next set at /Rivet/007 in a couple of weeks). The other is the guitar-heavy maelstrom of matte black smile, that for the verses is a stately stomp, and then the guitars arrive for the chorus and whip up an impressive whirlwind of sound – most of all, both of these are an impressive display of production chops, as there’s an awful lot going on in the mixes here, and everything is crisp and clear, with nothing lost in there.
On the flipside, tryst is a slower, more reflective track, and very reminiscent of Gary Numan’s more recent work, using similar synths to provide that high-pitched drone effect, and the chorus is straight out of the Numan playbook, too, complete with dramatic guitar-effect power chords, and a distinct, bombastic feel. Another slower track of interest, later in the album, is treason, where Guiffre’s vocals are unusually untreated, and his rich baritone voice is unexpectedly melodic as he picks his way through a song that feels like an act of penance.
The pace is picked up again by the roar of dysciple, a furious galloping pace and enhanced by backing vocals by Tara Lessard that phase across the mix during the chorus to great effect, and the panel-beating effects of the hammering rhythm of desperate measures, an angry, political song that rips into the charade of Governance in the US at the moment.
The final track, wasting away, is considerably more downbeat than the rest of the album, as if the power of the previous ten tracks had exhausted Giuffre, and muted drums and droning synths are all that accompanies his pained voice, and while I have no plans to ask, I can’t help but feel that this song is one about his ex-bandmate and ex-wife Tara Lessard. If it is, it is an elegant tribute, and an appropriate way to close off this excellent album.
In the fast-moving world of music, rarely do bands get second chances and make it stick – often, bands that return after a long time away spend more time chasing their old fans than making better music. What’s interesting here is that Guiffre has continued doing what he was doing, and his music was so well-created that it doesn’t feel like it has aged. While some of this album at least has been written and recorded for some years, it doesn’t sound like it. It feels like it is a 2020 release, and this is an industrial album well worth picking up and listening to.