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Members include Michelle Bodine (left group, 1994), guitar; Steve Johnson (left group), drums; Juan Monasterio, bass; John Schmersal (joined group, 1994), guitar; Tim Taylor (died, 1997), vocals, guitar; Tyler Trent, drums.
Storming out of a scene that spawned Guided by Voices and later the Breeders, Brainiac took a cue from dormant and nearby Ohioans Devo, and delivered three albums and two EPs of intensely quirky rock and pop that helped put their hometown of Dayton on the map. With herky-jerky rhythms, manic Moog squiggles, twisted guitar lines, and the falsetto shriek of front man Tim Taylor, Braniac's music was an epileptic freakout, laced with dissonance, smarts and strangely addictive, obtuse melodies. Mashing together '80s fun and '90s slacker-slop, All Music Guide rightfully called them a band "ahead of their time."
The beginnings of Brainiac came to fruition in 1992, after a shared love of the Pixies, Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, and Pere Ubu brought together Taylor and bassist Juan Monasterio, who were experimenting with music in their basement. After drafting guitarist Michelle Bodine and drummer Steve Johnson, the group began rehearsing material as a full band. Taking their name from an arch-nemesis of Superman, the group began concocting a frantic, keyboard-driven sound that paid homage to groups who combined art with a love for music of all kinds. In a 1996 interview with Ultra E-zine, Taylor discussed Brainiac's influences, saying, "Of course Sonic Youth is a big influence, but you would be surprised to what other stuff we listen to. We like electronic music, even techno, some '70s soul music and we mix all of those influences in an original way." As the band was getting started, playing shows around the midwest, they parted ways with Johnson, and recruited drummer Tyler Trent. With Trent on board, the band formed a relationship with Limited Potential Records and released the single "Super Duper Seven" in September of 1992. Another single was released, this time a split with riot grrrl-friendly punkers Bratmobile, on the Dayton label 12X12.
The strength and originality of Brainiac's early singles earned them a contract with New York-indie label Grass records. Though now defunct, Grass was the home to Sunbrain (a band that featured singer/songwriter David Dondero), Fifteen, New Radiant Storm King, the Toadies, Slowpoke, the Wrens, and Commander Venus, featuring Conor Oberst, who would later find fame in Bright Eyes. In mid-1993, Brainiac released their first full length offering, Smack Bunny Baby, produced by Eli Janney of the rock group Girls Against Boys. Of the 11-track album, All Music Guide said, "Tracks like 'Ride' and 'Draag' seethe with a manic fury that creates a pervading sense of tension and urgency throughout the album." The combination of Janney and the band, which would be documented on future releases, was a great one, according to Taylor. "Eli's always there when we are making stuff too excessive. He brings us back to Earth, when we are using to much effects and when things get out of hand. To him the song is more important, so actually he's the best possible producer we could have."
After the release of Smack Bunny Baby, Bodine chose to leave Brainiac to form the band O-Matic (and would go on to play with the Breeders as well as help form Shesus). In her place came guitarist John Schmersal, and in 1994, the revamped lineup of Brainiac recorded Bonsai Superstar with Janney again manning the boards. Placing at number 57 on their Top 100 Albums of the 1990's list, Pitchfork Media said, "Track after track, the band indulged in the most manic of rhythms, matched in intensity by certifiable madman and vocalist Timmy Taylor whose delivery, whether hushed, overdriven or vocodered, was always unsettling. Perhaps that was because the album captures Brainiac at that momentous threshold between raw, nervous energy and cold calculation."
Following Bonsai Superstar, Brainiac toured often, opening for bands like Jawbox and Shudder to Think. A live review of one of the band's shows explained that, "There is no one secret to the Brainiac recipe; it's a mental mess of Moog and quirk. John Schmersal's guitar can get weird on command and never sound wrong. Tyler Trent keeps things loud and solid with hands-over-the-head drumming and Juan Monasterio is content to plod through his basslines in between karate stances. It all mixes into a something fun and strange: A welcome relief from the sanitized oddity of too many bands."
In 1995, Brainiac were selected to be apart of Lollapalooza's second stage; a stage also featuring Yo La Tengo, Patti Smith, and the Roots. This was also the same year independently minded rock was largly represented at the summer festival, as the mainstage featured Hole, Pavement, Beck, and Sonic Youth. At the festival's Chicago stop, representatives of Touch & Go Records were in attendance, and promptly signed Brainiac on the strength of their live performance. Touch & Go's lineup has included Shellac, Seam, and Blonde Redhead, among others. Taylor was quoted as saying, "It is very exciting knowing that your album is released by the same label as Shellac." Their first release for Touch & Go was an EP, recorded with Kim Deal (of the Pixies and the Breeders), called Internationale. Featuring three songs, fan favorites "Go Freaks Go," "Silver Iodine," and "Simone Says," the EP served as a teaser for what Brainiac were about to deliver a year later.
In 1996, Brainiac issued their third full length record, Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. Featuring explosive rockers like "Pussyfootin'," "Hot Seat Can't Sit Down," "Kiss Me You Jacked Up Jerk," and "70 Kg Man," the band fully embraced the spazzy, electronics-laced chaos that they hinted at during their earlier releases. Rated at number 73 on Pitchfork Media's Top 100 Albums of the 1990's, the webzine said, "Bands don't come much tighter than Brainiac were at this creative zenith, and Hissing Prigs... finds these Daytonians unusually in control of their rabid freakouts, even maintaining their earlier releases' charming uneasiness." Again produced by Janney, Taylor said of the album, "We tried to put more melody in the songs. The dissonance is still there, but we were more into the song itself this time. We also tried to make the songs fit together better. ... The sound is also less synthetic: we tried to make it sound more physical."
If Hissing Prigs... was less synthetic and more physical, their follow-up EP, released on Touch & Go in 1997 and produced by Jim O'Rourke, was more robotic than anything they had released prior. Entitled Electro-Shock for President, the release showed the band experimenting with electronics that morphed their guitar rock into a cold, metallic and futuristic take on punk. Bassist Juan Monasterio was quoted as saying, "I think we're definitely futurists. It's no good to just repeat what's come before. You've got to make something new and try to f**k up the world." All Music Guide said, "'Fresh New Eyes' ping-ponging synths and static-burst percussion introduce this darker, more ominous Brainiac sound, while 'Flash Ram' upgrades their skronky punk into cybernetic thrash, complete with robotic singing. Similarly, 'Mr. Fingers' fuses the choppy noisebursts of Hissing Prigs in Static Couture with the EP's buzz-and-bleep aesthetic. Tracks like 'Fashion 500' and 'Turnover' are even more surprising, discarding much of the group's strategically chaotic noise for tense, implosive synths and muffled vocals."
Electro-Shock... would be Brainiac's final release. While at work on their next album, Taylor was tragically killed in a one-car accident on his way home from the studio. Syd Butler, bassist for Les Savy Fav, said, "We were very close with Brainiac. They were the first band to appreciate what we were doing and the first band that we cared about. We were totally excited when they asked us to go out on tour with them. We felt that we were doing really similar things, and when Timmy died, it was really devastating."
While Monasterio and Trent haven't done much musically since Brainiac's untimely demise, Schmersal has gone on to release a number of albums. His first was under the name John Stuart Mill. After that project dissolved, Schmersal started the group Enon with drummer Matt Schulz and bassist Toko Yasuda, formerly of Blonde Redhead, the Van Pelt, and the Lapse. They released Believo! in 1999 for Seethrubroadcasting, High Society in 2002, and Hocus Pocus in 2003, both for Touch & Go.
by Ryan Allen
Group formed in Dayton, OH, 1992; released debut album Smack Bunny Baby, 1993; released Bonsai Superstar, 1994; toured with Lollapalooza, 1995; released Hissing Prigs in Static Couture on Touch & Go label, 1996; group disbanded after death of founding member Taylor, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Smack Bunny Baby Grass, 1993.
- Bonsai Superstar Grass, 1994.
- Internationale Touch & Go, 1995.
- Hissing Prigs in Static Couture Touch & Go, 1996.
- Electro-Shock for President Touch & Go, 1997.
- Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH), October 25, 2002.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), April 18, 1997.
- Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL), June 28, 2002.
- "Brainiac," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 25, 2005).
- "Brainiac: th3 futur3 5ound of Dayton," http://varsity.utoronto.ca:16080/archives/117/jan16/review/Brainiac.html (February 25, 2005).
- "The History of Rock Music: Brainiac," http://www.scaruffi.com/vol5/brainiac.html (February 25, 2005).
- "Live Music: Brainiac and Delta 72," Keaggy.com, http://keaggy.com/livemusic/reviews/brainiac.php3 (February 25, 2005).
- "Top 100 Albums of the 90s Redux," Pitchfork Media, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/top/90s/ (February 25, 2005).
- "Ultra: Brainiac," Ultra E-Zine, http://www.dma.be/p/ultra/1996/brainiac.htm (February 25, 2005).
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