In an age when albums are recorded on iPads and digital recording technology offers novices the chance to make albums with crystal clarity, it's refreshing that the new Brainstems album sounds like shit. You wouldn't want the boozy bonhomie of this band to be filtered or cleaned up in any real way — the eight songs on Stryofoam are bashed out with twangy chords, bang-along rhythms and vocal abandon. It makes sense that the local quartet is releasing the collection on cassette tape. Be it amp hiss, tape saturation or room noise, the ambient layer of grime that cakes the proceedings might as well be the band's fifth member. Even in .mp3 form, these songs sound like they were designed to be blasted from the tape deck of a third-hand Chevy Nova.
A broad swath of garage rock, from the Kingsmen to the Velvet Underground to the Hives to King Khan, serves as a through-line on Stryofoam. Picture the Brainstems as the ideal frat-party band from some imagined '60s heyday, and you have an idea of what's at play. The band's vocals are as borderless as its lyrics are stream-of-consciousness; when it cuts loose, on "Brianstem Animal" and elsewhere, it's like watching a biped emerge from the primordial ooze. Opening track "If You're Going to the Party" plays a bait-and-switch with a Flamingoes-like intro of tremulous guitar triplets as Andrew Warshauer's narrator moves from sensitive boyfriend to a whip-cracking fire starter in the course of 70 seconds. The lithe bass and syncopated rim shots on "Sweat" show the band in a more restrained mood as a vaguely Brazilian beat comes though on the guitar solo, but it's a brief reprieve from guitar-driven revelry.
At eight songs and 22 minutes, it's like the copyright-dodging, purposefully misspelled title of the album suggests: Stryofoam is disposable, but its components never really go away. This music comes to us crumpled but resilient, refusing to disintegrate even as its unifying structures have gone.
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