Graded on a Curve:
Mind Brains, (s/t)

Based in Athens, GA and featuring membership drawn from over a half dozen prior units of shared geography and stylistic traits, Mind Brains combine psychedelia, low-tech electronics, a healthy experimental streak, and a moody approach to songwriting. This intriguing concoction shapes their self-titled first album, which is out on January 20th via hometown label Orange Twin.

Much of Mind Brains’ creative personality can be deduced by the sleeve of their debut. For starters, the oversaturated range of color definitely infers a psychedelic sensibility. Secondly, the lack of clear authorship, at least on the front of the jacket (the back finds the name ominously carved into a picture of a young woman agape) lends an air of the ambiguous that’s heightened by a sense of danger, partially through the employ of the skull and crossbones.

Indeed, Mind Brains do explore decidedly druggy environments from an atypically mysterious angle, though they’re pretty up-front in crediting influences; there’s the underutilized early electronic trinity of New Yorkers Silver Apples, Gary Numan’s recordings under the moniker Tubeway Army, and Damon Edge and Helios Creed’s work as Chrome, plus a stated preference for the neighborhood where Brian Eno hung out with Krautrockers.

Mind Brains can also be considered as a contempo Athens supergroup, Andy Gonzales a contributor to of Montreal, Marshmallow Coast, and the Music Tapes, Eric Harris involved with the Olivia Tremor Control, Major Organ and the Adding Machine, and Elf Power as well as the Music Tapes, Hannah M. Jones playing roles in Circulatory System, Supercluster, the Instruments, and New Sound of Numbers, and Kris Deason a part of Dark Meat.

Emily Waldron is the only member whose past experience hath eluded me, but I’ve a sneaking notion some earlier collaboration is under her belt. Exactly who plays what and when on Mind Brains is a stumper; amongst the standard guitar, bass, and drums can be heard electric autoharp, keyboards (a “Destroyed-and-Repaired Casio SK-1”), rhythm devices (“Modded-Out Toy Drum Machine”), and as stated, beaucoup electronics.

Given all this background, they inhabit the psychedelic surroundings (with indie and punkish underpinnings) quite naturally, and it makes them a swell fit for Orange Twin, a long running regional enterprise that’s previously issued material by a few of the aforementioned Mind Brains antecedents (Instruments, Major Organ, Elf Power) alongside stuff by Jack Logan, Gerbils, Sibylle Baier, Vic Chesnutt (Dark Developments in tandem with Elf Power), Madeline, and Jeff Mangum solo and in Neutral Milk Hotel.

“Happy Stomp” commences the disc with a smattering of manipulated vocal samples before the instrumentation drifts into a milieu fairly at odds with the title of the piece; notably dissimilar to a blissed-out scenario (though not accurately described as sad, either), the setting’s also pretty far afield from any kind of stomping. Instead, we get methodic string scrape, martial drums, woozy cheapo keys, spurts of synth and a general vibe of tribal psych.

Mind Brains is an eight song affair, though it includes three very brief pieces left untitled and uncredited on the LP’s cover; the first serves as a sci-fi segue into the icy, mechanized atmosphere of “Body Horror,” a cut exploring the darkly futuristic side of Krautrock and the early New Wave, at least prior to the rise of chanted unison singing (a recurring motif across the record) contributing an unexpected and ultimately distinguishing twist.

And “The Morning Before the Morning Before Dawn” is also distinctive in how it offers a single male voice taking the lead, though other throats do assist as the synthesizers discharge an enveloping residue and additional instrumentation nurtures considerable experimental ambiance; in particular, there are brittle cascades of varying intensity from that renegade autoharp.

But most effective at this juncture at conjuring a mood of the vaguely unsettling is “Strange Remember.” The reasons are multiple; as the vocals lend a suspicion of something slowly, almost imperceptibly going awry in the village (Mind Brains excel at the cinematic), the music adds tension. As the cut progresses, pulsing waves of electro-dread give way to a tone of confusion slyly enhanced by elements seemingly borrowed from the classical avant-garde.

Registering a bit like a sound-collage-tinged instrumental by Tall Dwarfs recorded under the dual guidance of Conny Plank and Gibby Haynes, “Whistle Tips” is simultaneously bizarre (the opening voice manipulation especially) and infectious (a weirdly attractive groove is established), though the two minute length is also sadly a little short.

‘tis not a gyp however, for “The Era of Late Heavy Bombardment” hints of darkwave unease nodding into the menacing abyss of pre-BPM industrial, and after a gnawing guitar line the singing inspires images of marching masses circled by helicopters as the midsection, with distressed, anguished shouts deep in the mix, reinforces Mind Brains as a studio-derived entity.

Sandwiched betwixt the two other untitled segments (the second capturing nifty practice amp detritus doing battle with what sounds like a cyborg chicken) is “Sea Shore Minor.” Once more, chilly early synth-wave patterns (fans of the Neue Deutsche Welle should certainly investigate this platter) unite with the aura of a children’s choir possessed by a horde of nefarious spirits. And the autoharp accents, in evidence throughout but highly prevalent toward the end, genuinely add to the whole.

“Bouncy Clock” is Mind Brains’ closer, its first two minutes splendidly brandishing robotic rhythms and keyboard tones that methodically decay into retrofuturistic puddles as spring-loaded guitar reverberates from within the low-budget tech. A handful of further wheedling synth lines are inserted as those group vocals emerge a final time; the track then proceeds with a few more heavy riffs, a generous helping of tribalist drumming, radio signals and even pizzicato strings.

Overall, the desire for experimentation does slightly hinder the selections’ cohesiveness as an album, but on the positive side can be found a judicious display of self-editing and by extension a refusal to get lost in their own explorations; even at their most “out,” these remain songs (that said, portions of “Bouncy Clock” do flirt a tad with excess).

And I’d like to say Mind Brains bodes well moving forward, but in truth this currently thriving outfit connects as much like one project amidst an ebb and flow of many as it does a determined band with definite plans for the future. Again, maybe that’s all part of the group’s appealing mystery.


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