The Brainiac 5 - Back to Shore - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Brainiac 5 - Back to Shore

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2019-04-05
The Brainiac 5 - Back to Shore
The Brainiac 5 - Back to Shore

In Alice in Wonderland, the (Mad) Hatter asks the somewhat famous riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Lewis Carroll never intended an answer, but that hasn’t stopped notable people from trying to find a solution.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Every answer needs a riddle, but not all riddles require an answer. And those are the great ones.”

By the way, this is an absurdly brilliant psych-prog (and just about everything else) album.

First the easy stuff: There are several psych-rock songs like “Long Enough” that twist the frequencies a bit and punch into psych perceptions with punk safety pinned energy. As a reference point, perhaps, imagine The Screaming Trees (in their SST days) fronted by Julian Cope. The music swirls, darts, pulses, pounds, and is always just (ever so slightly) on the other side of the Looking Glass. This is powerful and very clever rock music.

But now to the rest: Oh my(!) the core of the album is comprised with the multi-part epic Back to Shore Parts 1—4.

Well, it all begins with a burst of energy in Part 1 A Woman’s Work, and then the re-occurring vocal melody sings “Back to shore,” with male and female vocals spinning around the Latin rhythm. A flute dances with a new step that sends The Girl from Ipanema back to, well, Ipanema, and in desperate search of an open and aged stag line.   

The vocals ask the question as to how to “Find a way back to shore.”

Perhaps, that’s the meaning of life in a nutshell.

And the flute continues to dance because the flute has continued to dance through humanity’s deepest mysteries.

There’s a brief acoustic interlude, but then all psych heaven explodes with sax, strange voices, jutting guitars, and electric everything.

Part 2 This Way starts to spin with dub vocal poetry, ala (the great) Linton Kwesi Johnson of Dread Beat an’ Blood fame. Then the song spins with a jazzy of West Indian vibe. A guitar plays against exotic percussion, and a harmonica and tin whistle circle the tune.  Vocals then quell the mix, until, well, (of all things) an electric bagpipe blares yet another weird bit of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Trust me, I am not doing justice to this album. But I can say this is the best concoction of rock, psych, and world music (with a blazing electric guitar!) I have heard since (the great) Jade Warrior, not counting the rather serene Waves, in their Island Records heyday. In fact, Part 3 Tribute to Alex Ward simply rocks with ethnic percussion, some beautifully distorted guitar, some absolutely raging guitar, a few horns, and a tribal groove. It tears through its brief four-minute plus lifespan.

By the way (to pause for a moment), master puzzle pro, Sam Loyd, solved the unsolvable when he proclaimed, “Because Poe wrote on both.”

All right, but back to music: Part 4 The Seal Man stretches with deep symphonic keyboards that surround a suburb sax solo. Guitar bursts and the “Back to shore” chorus hover, until the piano and new melody, rides the song to its second sax solo that simply rumbles and raves, and, in the end, the heavens sing, a few gongs gong, and the tune is engulfed with beautiful keyboard relief.

The instrumental “Elegy” is a thankful blessing before the final two songs, “What We Can” and “Breaking Up” return the music to the world of mere rock music. Indeed, they are great tunes, but, they only float in the wake of the Back to Shore magnum opus.

Yes, indeed, this is an absurdly brilliant psych-prog (and everything else) rock album. But it’s more than that because it’s a musical riddle of a record, a record that requires no answer, and that’s why, to almost (once again) quote my friend, Kilda Defnut, it’s a great one.

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