Wednesday, July 24, 2024 
--archival-captured-cinematronic-continuity error-daily report-datastream-depth of field--
--drama-44.1 khz-gramophone-inquisitive-needle drops-picture book-twinklepop--
Neumu = Art + Music + Words
Search Neumu:  


edited by michael goldbergcontact

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

A Canaveral-esque countdown kicks things off, ushering in a deafening roar of guitar, bass and drums, a sound that will remind you of the face-melting, ear-pummeling metal of your misspent youth. This is "Rocket Science," the first track off Brain Surgeons NYC's Denial of Death, and if it brings back memories of mid-1970s parking-lot gropes and tokes, there's a damned good reason. Drummer Albert Bouchard is the one who put the cowbell into Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," among other headbanger classics. Bouchard and his wife, Deborah Frost, ex-drummer for Flaming Youth and a well-known rock journalist, started Brain Surgeons in the early 1990s. Since then they have released seven albums on their own Cellsum record label. The latest, Denial of Death, is a heavy rock triumph, full of crushing riffs and spiraling solos. Yet beyond that, it's melodic, soul-searching and intelligent as it grapples with the big questions like death and the morality of war.

Denial of Death is, in part, the Brain Surgeons' coming to terms with the death of their guitar player Billy Hilfiger in 2001. Hilfiger, the brother of designer Tommy Hilfiger, had played rhythm guitar for the band since its second album, Trepanation, in 1995; he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1997. "Billy first got sick... right before we did our first West Coast tour, and his participation became more and more limited as his illness progressed," Frost said. "But as it became clear that he wasn't going to get better, it wasn't really helpful to tell him, 'You've got a brain tumor, you're out of the band.'"

Hilfiger's illness and eventual death, and the passing of long-time friend Helen Wheels, made the early 2000s a dark and difficult period for Brain Surgeons, but there was never any doubt about whether the band would continue. "There was a question of whether we would regroup as a different band or keep the same name," Bouchard said. "It's something we're still dealing with, hence the 'Brain Surgeons NYC' tag that we're using now. That way it's the same but different."

Moreover, continuing to play is one way of defying death. "But we don't need anyone who's literally on his deathbed in order to go out play every show like it might be our last," Frost said. "We made the album the same way. We don't want to leave anything in the locker room. That's the constant challenge."

The band toured as a trio to support the 1999 double CD Piece of Work, but recently added guitarist Ross "The Boss" Friedman" of the Dictators and Manowar to the lineup, a change that shaped Denial of Death in several key ways.

For one thing, Friedman can shred with the best of them. His solos, majestically slow in "Tomb of the Unknown Monster," and Eddie Van Halen rapid in the break to "1864," give the band an extra dimension, a more credibly metallic sound. "We've done more metal songs in the past and they didn't come out as well," Bouchard said. "Ross helps us sell the metal aspects of our sound in a big way."

But, as the delicate, almost Spanish-sounding guitar work of "Strange Like Me" shows, he's versatile, too. "Ross started that when I brought out this nice little nylon-string guitar and suggested he try that for the lead instead of the electric he had been using. We knew after 10 seconds it was the right sound," Bouchard said.

Frost added, "The song just cried out for it. It's very ‘Never on Sunday.' And we were really happy to finally get a chance to use that guitar, which is really great but was relegated to storage for decades. It didn't even merit a place under the bed! Now it's redeemed itself."

Friedman also transformed the songwriting process, making the Brain Surgeons' latest album their most diverse and collaborative ever. "He's really the first person who brings as much to the party as Albert or I do," Frost said. "He's just in an entirely different league in terms experience and a distinct voice. And he's helped elevate our game — and vice-versa."

She added that past efforts to involve other band members in the songwriting process had fizzled. "It was like pulling teeth, except at the very end with Billy, when he was just grateful to participate in any way," she said. "Ross is the other extreme — he's the fountain of spurt. And every idea he gave us, we made a song out of."

Having three songwriters instead of two meant that there was more than enough material for Denial of Death, she explains. "For the first time ever, we wrote way too many songs or instead of having to include something we weren't totally 100% about, we had to leave some out. All of this material was really fresh — it wasn't stuff that either Albert or I had lying around in various states of undress forever. And for the first time, there were no what I would call specifically Albert songs or Deborah songs. We really worked together on everything, which hasn't always been the case, and then we worked together on the ideas Ross brought us."

Many of those ideas had to do with the war in Iraq, a conflict brought into Frost and Bouchard's home, literally, with the daily postal delivery. "It's very difficult for us, who grew up during Vietnam and have a son who just turned 17, and is getting mail daily from every branch of the military offering him some cheesy premium you get for opening a bank account — you know, just give us your name and potentially your arm, leg, or life and you can get these cheap sunglasses absolutely free — to look at the daily carnage and the heartbreak," Frost said, adding that concerns about the war informed songs like "Jimmy Boots Fetish," "Constantine's Sword" and "Change the World, Henry."

There's also a Civil war song on the album in "1864," with lyrics about a young soldier's watery escape from death rising above a frantic punk metal beat. "That's a true story about Albert's great-great grandfather, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Civil War," Frost said. "Albert mentioned it to a librarian type friend into Civil War research, who found several accounts. We took the song pretty directly from a newspaper article. [He was] interviewed near the end of his life — y'know, like when they'd trot the local hero out to shake hands with General Pershing on the 4th of July. A lot of it is verbatim."

"It presented a new kind of experience in terms of writing, which I really loved, and telling the story from a different character's perspective," Frost added. "Before I ever wrote anything else, I thought I was going to write plays, which is what I did when I was 15, 16 — and this might have been the first time I felt like I'd really let someone else talk in a song, and I was very proud of finally figuring out what to do with the chorus, 'cause it took a while."

Brain Surgeons NYC are playing a handful of shows in April and May, with stops in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Detroit, Canada and Philadelphia. For more complete dates and other information, check the Web site — Jennifer Kelly [Thursday, March 30, 2006]

Alejandro Escovedo's Joyous Rebirth

John Vanderslice Kicks Genre

Paul Duncan's Elusive Pop

Stephen Yerkey's Wandering Songs

French Kicks Complete 'Two Thousand'

Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

Jarboe's 'Men' Charts Turbulent Emotions

Delta 5's Edgy Post-Punk Resurrected

Blitzen Trapper Spiff Things Up

Minus Five: Booze, Betrayal, Bibles and Guns

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

Chris Brokaw's Experiment In Pop

Old And New With Death Vessel

Silver Jews: Salvation And Redemption

Jana Hunter's Beautiful Doom

Vashti Bunyan Finds Her Voice Again

Nick Castro's Turkish Folk Delight

Katrina Hits New Orleans Musicians Hard

Paula Frazer's Eerie Beauty

The National Find Emotional Balance

Death Cab For Cutie's New Album, Tour

Heavy Trash's Rockabilly Rampage

Help The Wrens Get Their Albums Released!

Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic Launch Label

Lydia Lunch's Noir Seductions

Bosque Brown's The Real Deal

PDX Pop Now! Fest Announces Lineup

Sarah Dougher Starts Women-Focused Label

Jennifer Gentle's Joyful Psyche

Mountain Goat Darnielle Gets Autobiographical With 'Sunset Tree'

Mia Doi Todd's Beautiful Collaboration

Return of the Gang of Four

Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride

Solo Disc Due From Pixies' Frank Black

Heartless Bastards' Big-Hearted Rock

Mike Watt's Midlife Journey

The Black Swans Balance Old And New

Nicolai Dunger's Swedish Blues

The Insomniacs' Hard-Edged Pop

Yo La Tengo Collection Due

Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound

Beans Evolves

Earlimart's Songs Of Loss

Devendra Banhart's 'Mosquito Drawings'

Negativland Rerelease 'Helter Stupid'

Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary

Sounds From Nature: Laura Veirs

Octet's Fractured Electric Pop

Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

The Cult Of Silkworm

The Evolution Of The Concretes

Devendra Banhart's Exuberant New Songs

Catching Up With The Incredible String Band

Gram Rabbit's Desert Visions

Three Indie-Rock Stars Unite As Maritime

Remembering Johnny Ramone

Jarboe's Many Voices

Phil Elvrum's Long Hard Winter

First U.S. Release For Vashti Bunyan Album

Incredible String Band To Tour U.S.

New Music From Lydia Lunch

Le Tigre Protest The Bush War Presidency

Joel RL Phelps: Bleak Songs Rock Hard

Time Tripping With Galaxie 500

Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!

Sharron Kraus: A New Kind Of Folk Music

The Fiery Furnaces' Psychedelic Theater

Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

Sonic Youth's Ongoing Experiment

The Dt's Do It Their Way

Poster Children Cover Political Rock

Rare Thelonious Monk Recordings Due

Uneasy Pop From dios

Beck, Lips, Waits Cover Daniel Johnston

Understanding Franz Ferdinand

The Truly Amazing Joanna Newsom

Mylab's Boundary-Crossing Experiments In Sound

Have You Heard Jolie Holland Whistle?

The 'Magical Realism' Of Vetiver

The Restless, Rootsy Songs Of Eszter Balint

The Sun Sets On The Blasters

Devendra Banhart To Tour U.S.

The East/West Fusion Sounds Of Macha

Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

TV On The Radio Get Political

Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse To Play Lollapalooza 2004

New Music From The Fall

Apocalyptic Sound From The Intelligence

Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

New Album, Tour From The Polyphonic Spree

Shearwater Take Wing

Sleater-Kinney To Tour East/West Coasts

Resurrecting Rocket From The Tombs

Visqueen Want To Get A Riot Goin' On

Lloyd Cole Makes A Commotion

Funkstörung's 'Cut-Up' Theory

Waiting For Mirah's C'mon Miracle

Electrelane Find Their Voice

The Television Is Still On!

Experimental Sounds From Hannah Marcus

The Ponys Play With Rayguns

Ex-Mono Men Leader Returns With The Dt's

Mountain Goats' Darnielle Adopts A More Hi-Fi Sound

Sun Kil Moon To Tour U.S., Europe

Nothin' But The Truth From The Von Bondies

Sultans Survive 'Shipwreck'

Sebadoh Reunite For Spring Tour

Xiu Xiu's 'Reality' Rock

Meet The Patients

Beth Orton, M. Ward Make Sadness Taste Sweet

Oneida's Pathway To Ecstasy

Radiohead, Pixies, Dizzee Rascal To Play Coachella

Young People Tour Behind War Prayers

Pixies Tour Dates Announced

Ani DiFranco Tells It Like It Is

Deerhoof Back For 2004 With Milkman

McLusky Set To 'Bring On The Big Guitars' Again

Pixies Reunite For U.S., European Tours

American Music Club, Decemberists To Play NoisePop 2004

Damien Rice Set To Tour U.S.

The Frames Accept Your Love

Punk Rock's A-Frames To Re-Record Third Album

Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

A Solo Detour For Ladybug Transistor's Sasha Bell

Return Of The Old 97's

Spending The Night With Damien Rice

Tindersticks Reissues Due This Spring

The Evolution Of 'A Silver Mt. Zion'

Neil Young Rocks Australia With 'Greendale'

Poster Children Back In Action

'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'

Chicks On Speed's Subversive Strategies

Oranger At A Crossroad

Peaches On Tour And In Control

Jawbreaker's Complete Dear You Sessions To Be Released

Belle & Sebastian + Trevor Horn = Sunny Pop Nirvana

Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart

Descendents Are Back!

Modest Mouse Touring; Album Due in 2004

London Suede Take A (Permanent?) Break

Saul Williams Wants You To Think For Yourself

The 'Zen' Sound Of Calexico

Elliott Smith Dead AT 34

Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

The Hunches: Music That'll 'Fucking Live Forever'

Vic Chesnutt Speaks His Mind

90 Day Men Cancel Tour

Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor Highlight SF Jazz Festival

For My Morning Jacket, It's The Music That Matters

EP Due From The Polyphonic Spree

Bright Eyes, Neva Dinova Collaborate On EP

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Ben Lee

Catching Up With Cheerfully Defiant Tricky

Hanging Around With The Polyphonic Spree

Sophomore Album Due From The Shins

Noise Rock From Iceland's Singapore Sling

Death Cab To Tour U.S.

Rufus Wainwright's Want One Is 'Family Affair'

Death Cab's Transatlanticism On The Way

Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

The Minus 5 Get Down With Wilco

Tywanna Jo Baskette's Southern-Gothic Rock

Xiu Xiu's Stewart Takes On 'Gay-bashing'

Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wire, Primal Scream On Buddyhead Comp

Yeah Yeah Yeahs To Tour West Coast

Sonic Youth, Erase Errata Kick Off 'Buddy Series'

The Locust Are One Scary Band

Damien Rice In The 'Here And Now'

Remembering Karp's Scott Jernigan

ATP-NY Postponed 'Til At Least 2004

The Soul Of Chris Lee

Gits' Frenching The Bully To See Re-Release

Stephen Malkmus Is In Control

Superchunk To Release Rarities Set; Teenage Girls To Swoon As A Result

Summer Touring For The Gossip

Babbling On About Deerhoof

Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.

Chatting With ATP's Barry Hogan

Former Digable Planets Frontman Surfaces With Cherrywine

ATP L.A. Festival Rescheduled For Fall

Freakwater's Janet Bean Takes A Solo Turn

Lee's 'Cool Rock'

Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Highlight YES NEW YORK

Mark Romanek's 'Hurt' Revives Johnny Cash's Career

The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

R.E.M., Wilco, Modest Mouse Highlight Bumbershoot Fest

Set Fires To Flames' Sleep-Deprivation Sound

Southern Gothic Past Shadows Verbena's La Musica Negra

The Subtle Evolution Of Yo La Tengo

Spring Tour For Jolie Holland (Plus A Live Album)

Liz Phair Still Pushing The Limits

Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Young People's War Prayers On The Way

peruse archival

-snippetcontactsnippetcontributorssnippetvisionsnippethelpsnippetcopyrightsnippetlegalsnippetterms of usesnippetThis site is Copyright © 2003 Insider One LLC