Even before you drop the needle on the record, yes, this arrived in full vinyl glory; the John Hurford cover reminds us of just what is so great about the 12-inch format, the size of the canvas that artists get to display their talents and just how great The Brainiac 5 has always been at putting out visually stunning albums.
Now, “Memory or Dream” was laid down about a year ago, a time when the band had officially thrown in the towel. But you see, these are the type of creatives who come together when the spirit moves them when there’s a gnawing sonic itch that just won’t quit. And every time they scratch that itch, something worthwhile bursts forth. Even by their own lofty standards, this, possibly final album, is one hell of a spectacle. It brings together the core trio of Charlie Taylor, Bert Briscoe, and John Wood, bolstered by the long-time associate Duncan Kerr, who’s wielding his six-string wizardry.
The Brainiac 5 has never hidden their deep-rooted connection to Cornwall; it’s right there, worn openly and proudly on their sleeves. And as if to underline the fact, this album finds its home on Colin Hill’s label, High On The Pyg Track, nestled in Launceston. From such a perfect place, their songs resonate like folk legends, weaving tales of the band’s early days in that enchanted county, linking experiences, businesses, and people.
Cornwall, a place that sometimes feels like it’s from another dimension entirely, and I mean that in the most mind-expanding way possible, seems like the perfect breeding ground for a band like this. Their sonic touchstones and musical reference points, well, they’re nowhere near the mainstream either. They seem to exist in a realm that brushes against the psychedelic landscapes of Beefheart, dances in the Zappa-esque playgrounds, and leans on the fence for a chat with neighbours like Spirit and perhaps even The Cardiacs. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if early Floyd had a holiday sub-let nearby. (Now, I’m just pondering whether having such neighbours would boost or sabotage the property values!)
But you know what, The Brainiac 5 isn’t out here trying to relive their salad days. Sure, their signature psychedelic-punk spirit is there, a guiding hand always tilting the sonic scales to some degree. But this is music that keeps looking forward. It’s an album that wanders freely across sonic territories. From the alt-pop vibes of “A Blind Man’s Life” to the angular, raw-edged swagger of “Swerve,” and then there’s the lush, balladic breathing space carved out by songs like “Cry In Style.” There’s variety galore, yet a beautiful, unifying consistency that runs through it all.
If this truly marks their final hurrah, and that would be a shame, at least they’re going out with a bang. They say leave ’em wanting more and trust me, that’s exactly what they’ve done.