Brainiac was only together six years but certainly left its mark on music. The Dayton band’s legacy of incendiary live shows and small but powerful discography endures two decades after leader Tim Taylor’s death on March 23, 1997.
It has been 20 years since the final full-length, “Hissing Prigs in Static Couture,” was released by Chicago-based Touch & Go Records but Brainiac is still a daily topic of conversation on several Facebook groups. That seemed like a good excuse to look back at this powerful album, which was recorded at Oz Studio in Baltimore in November 1995.
“Hissing Prigs,” released in March 1996, is the band’s third album and first full-length for Touch & Go. Like the first two full-lengths for Grass Records, “Smack Bunny Baby” (1993) and “Bonsai Superstar” (1994), the material was recorded by Eli Janney of Girls Against Boys.
While “Smack Bunny Baby” was like a group of androids bashing out surprisingly organic space-punk, the follow-up, “Bonsai Superstar,” was both more nuanced and more extreme. It’s a creative jump that would take many bands three albums. Brainiac got there in less than a year.
Flashes of the “Smack Bunny Baby” sound reappeared in many of the songs but the dynamics are more extreme and there is a greater reliance on synthesizers, voice samples and audio experimentation. “Hissing Prigs” doesn’t offer another sonic leap — that wouldn’t happen until the group’s final release, the 1997 EP “Electro-Shock for President” — but the album does fine-tune the playbook established for “Bonsai Superstar.”
Punk and new wave were obvious influences on Brainiac but a strong sense of melody and classic pop songcraft was buried beneath the din in retro-futuristic rockers like “Vincent Come on Down” and “I Am a Cracked Machine.” The band was open to just about anything that would warp its sound, from alternate guitar tunings, fuzzed-out amplifiers and distressed keyboards to spoken word audio snippets, children’s toys and a voice program from an old Texas Instruments TI-994 computer.
In a 1996 interview for “Seconds” magazine, Taylor told writer Eric Wielander, “the idea was to make pop music that sounded futuristic so it wouldn’t sound dated.” Mission accomplished: Two decades later the songs are still fresh and vibrant.
When Taylor died in that tragic car crash at the age of 28, the band was adored by musicians like Marilyn Manson and Beck and was in talks to sign with Interscope Records. It’s hard to know where Brainiac would be today if he had survived but we’ll always have the band’s music to energize our playlists.