By Eleni P. Austin
Sometimes the best music happens spontaneously. A crucial component of Rock & Roll is that (to quote legendary Desert band Dali’s Llama), “raw is real.” Symphonies and Operas can be polished, perfect and flawless, but the most celebrated moments of Rock started off as happy accidents.
Psuperbrain gets that. The L.A. Power Trio came together almost through osmosis. Bob Schaeffer (guitar, lead vocals), Bubba Dixon (drums, vocals) and Kurt Morgan (bass, vocals) had each cycled through a series of bands in their home states as well as Los Angeles. Consummate players, they were also battle-scarred veterans of the music industry.
They connected as friends first and then formed the band just for kicks, finding time to play in between professional commitments. Having full-time careers didn’t really co-opt their creativity, but their time in the studio was finite, so they made the most of it. In the end, they managed to write, arrange and record 10 songs in seven days. The result was their full-length debut, Superstar, it arrived in 2006.
The experience was so fun and satisfying that it became the blueprint for each successive album. Whenever Psuperbrain could steal time, they would sneak off and create another album. Xtemporaneous, but highly structured music was the goal.
Their sophomore album, II, was released in 2007 Random Order followed in 2008. Two years later they returned with the whimsically titled Pfour IV and they continued the silent P tradition with Ptribute in 2011. Finally they popped off with P.S. in 2012.
After an extended hiatus Bob, Bubba and Kurt have returned with their seventh effort, aptly titled The Seventh Dragon. The album kicks into gear with “This Is How I Roll.” The track is powered by prowling bass lines, modal, snake-charmer guitar and a stuttery backbeat. The lyrics offer an incisive observation on the dichotomy of duality. “He’s so rich he can’t understand poverty, He’s so broke he can’t understand money/He’s so now he can’t understand history, he’s so lost he can’t cope with the future.”
Psuperbrain’s psound (get it? Okay, it stops there), completely colors outside the lines, blending a plethora of influences and sonic textures. “The High Rollers” and “If You Wanna Know” are best categorized as Punk-meets-Pop -meets-Prog. On the former, shards of guitar crash and thrash over marauding bass lines and a pummeling rhythm. The melody shares some musical DNA with Kiss’s archetypal party anthem “Rock n Roll All Nite,” but Bob’s laconic vocals are a cosmic cousin to the hardcore stylings of Husker Du leader Bob Mould.
The latter opens with the discordant squall of guitar feedback before the melody and arrangement leapfrog through a series of aural switchbacks. Bubba’s blistering back-beat provides ballast for Kurt and Bob’s frenetic flights of fancy. Kurt’s up first with a succinct bass solo that coils around the melody with a python grip, then Bob responds with spiky riffs that strafe and splinter. The lyrics aren’t so much lyrics as a cranky haiku. This manic maelstrom offers a master-class in concision, clocking in at just two minutes and 25 seconds.
On “Dank” and “Selfie Stick” the band display a mordant sense of humor, raking hipster douchebags over the coals. “Dank” is anchored by a breakneck beat, roiling bass runs and waspish guitar notes. The lyrics take aim at a couple of narcissists basking in the superficial glow of affluence; “He’s the kinda guy that’ll drive a Benz, she’s the kinda girl that says ‘look at my friends’/He’s the kinda guy you gotta ‘watch your back,’ she’s the kinda girl ‘you better watch your sack.’
“Selfie-Stick is even more potent. Sludgey guitar chords give way to search-and-destroy riff-age, throbbing bass fills and a pile-driving rhythm. The song is a caustic commentary on the current need to document every moment. As though an experience can’t be processed or enjoyed unless there’s photographic evidence. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud funny; “Standin’ on the beach again, walkin’ by a mountain again/You’re in your car again, you’re with your friends again, it’s on the internet again…Kissy kissy kissy face again, new shirt in your bedroom again, when’s it gonna end?”
The action slows on two tracks. Spectral UFO guitar lattices between tensile bass notes and an off-kilter rhythm on “You’re Gone.” Bob’s vocals are suitably soporific for this quiescent mediation on death and spirituality. The song was inspired by ghostly apparitions and a glimpse of a veteran’s cemetery off the 405 freeway. Meanwhile, “Down To The Sea” is a brittle tone poem. Downstroke riffs shapeshift into a face-melting solo over grinding bass runs and kick-drum percussion.
Fittingly, the best song here is the title track with Tilt-A-Whirl guitar grinds and wah-wahs over a martial cadence and funkified bass. The melody and instrumentation sync up, spiraling into tighter concentric circles before collapsing in a sodden, sweaty satisfying heap.
The album closes with the frenetic “Money Man.” Hopscotching bass runs, see-saw rhythms and schizoid guitar propel this withering critique on the culture of acquisition. “He was the money man, he got the gold/He was the money man, yeah he sold his soul.”
In the tradition of Punk Power Trios like Minutemen, Husker Du and firehose, this band jams econo and rages full-on. Taking a page from progenitors like Cream, the Police Primus, Oysterhead and Rush (sans the castrati vocals of the latter), their musical prowess is equal parts precise and improvisational.
These days the pop music landscape is littered with carefully groomed, pretty, perfect, safe auto-tuned banality. The shaggy charms of Psuperbrain are definitely a breath of fresh air.