Review: Brainiac – “Predator Nominate”

Predator Nominate, a newly released EP of unreleased music from name-drop-ready ‘90s underground outfit Brainiac, is incomplete but, nevertheless, illuminating. Released by the band’s label of choice, Chicago-based indie Touch and Go Records, the nine-track platter, which also is available in limited vinyl editions, plays more as a Timmy Taylor demo than a frozen-in-time portrait of the band before Taylor’s tragic and rather untimely May 1997 death. It finds the group – and Taylor, mostly – ruminating on many of themes and textures of its final work, 1997’s Electro-shock For President EP, with Taylor in full command of post-modern electronica that must’ve sounded like the future of music in the mid-90s. For Brainiac fans, and they are legion, this is amazing stuff to unearth and is worth picking to the bone for clues about where the band was headed in its post-Touch and Go, major-label-driven trajectory. And, while Predator Nominate is not the band’s best work – more on that later – it’s a great introduction for the frame of mind Taylor and Co. were in at a pivotal and, ultimately, thwarted period of their tenure.

Tellingly, it isn’t until the new EP’s sixth track (“Didn’t Feel”) that we even heard much of Brainiac’s under-rated rhythm section and, then, it’s in a series of bombastic crashes. Taylor is in control here, from the cool-headed, spy-theme title track and distorted lullabies (the noisy “Going Wrong”) to Kraftwerk-inspired fare such as the catchy “Kiss of the Dog,” which feels more complete than many of the EP’s offerings. There are detours. “Smothered Inside,” in an interesting bit of sequencing, places its roaring guitars and plaintive vocals – one of the few times on the disc Taylor’s voice is not disguised or distorted – between more electronic-friendly work. “I built a word around you/ Smothered you inside,” Taylor wails, all catharsis. “Feels like a phony answer/ The less I have to hide.”

Other tracks are slightly incidental but still interesting for the unspoken volumes they suggest. To that end, there’s “The Game,” a 46-second treat, whose underlying musical themes hint at the wonderfully computerized, something’s-gone-wrong-ery of Electro-shock for President. Or “Gone Away,” whose plucky bass posits four-stringer Juan Monasterio’s role in the band was far from sunsetted. Unfortunately, many of the EP’s tracks, even the finer ones, are rather short, with seven of the nine offerings not breaking two minutes and the other two tracks not breaking three. Brainiac was always a band that did a lot with less when it came to track lengths – the epic “Mr. Fingers” ran 2:59 – but that sort of abbreviation lingers occasionally here like a bad taste in the mouth.

The record’s closing track, like “Mr. Fingers,” is a bit of an opus in itself. Though it, again, doesn’t run long – this one clocks in at 1:48 – it suggests an alternative career track for Brainiac, where it might have become revered less for catchy, synth-disrupted alt-rock (“Vincent Come On Down,” “Go Freaks Go,” “Ride,” etc. etc.) and instead sounded like a more subversive post-OK Computer Radiohead, perhaps with just more of a touch of dark humor.

Predator Nominate may lack some of the band’s trademark dark humor and flashy quirkiness, but Taylor supplants it with colors and moods that would be considered a little avant-edged in 2022, nevermind 1997. It’s just another indicator of how far ahead of the curve this quartet was playing. Brainiac remains of the finest products of the 1990’s underground scene and the group, which has reunited for shows of late without Taylor at the helm, has some of the most recognizable timbre in indie rock. Taylor might have been out to change that, even just a little, by what he was starting to cook up with Predator Nominate. We’ll never know. What we do know is that the mighty Brainiac has a new EP, following hot on the heels of two other limited-run Touch and Go offerings that are more than worth checking out. So, crank up that title track with a gin and tonic, and imagine a world where Brainiac was allowed to flower into something grander than it ever was. To that end, this little but mighty record is worth finding. – Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Jan. 31, 2023


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.