Last year, I heard an album I knew I had to review. But no matter how many attempts I made, I struggled to find words to do it justice. Plus, whenever I put it on to listen to for reviewing, I just got lost in listening to it. It remains one of few albums I love that I seem incapable of reviewing. When I saw a post on Facebook a couple of days ago, it made me think about the album again. It was released last year, and probably slipped under the radar of most people that would have loved it. I don’t recall reading any reviews for it, and that doesn’t seem right to me. So, even if I don’t think I can do it justice, I’m going to do my best to at least say something about it. And what is this album? It’s called Brain Wee, and it’s the most un-TRAPS sounding TRAPS release ever. It probably bewildered most of their fan base, and it was released in a way that makes it its own worst enemy. But anyone who loves dark ambient – as I do – should love this, or at least give it a go.
I first came to TRAPS (The Red and Purple Songs) via OHHMS, and this introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of HalfMeltedBrain Records. When Brain Wee was released I initially struggled with it, but I think this is because I was looking at it through (purple and) rose-tinted glasses. I was expecting to hear waves of cacophonous noise that crash and caress in equal measure. I paid no heed to the Bandcamp tags, just as I paid no heed to the instruction that I must take drugs before listening. I can attest to the fact that one need not take drugs to listen to Brain Wee, the music is potent enough. What we have here is something closer to Brian Eno than Bryan Giles. My mind immediately equates TRAPS’ Wee with Eno’s Warm Jets, even if that wasn’t the intention. Indeed the sound of this vacillates between a darker version of Eno’s minimalist ambience, and his more melodic song-based music.
While that might not be apparent in twelve-minute-plus opening number Smead, the following Drug Trumpet wouldn’t sound too out of place on the aforementioned Warm Jets album. Even the vocals are delivered in an almost Eno-esque style. (Again this is my inference, and it’s not only entirely possible, but quite probable, that TRAPS didn’t intend me to make this comparison – but, there you go. Barthes warned you of the death of the author, so I’ll take the opportunity to read my own story into the music.) This is the slightly perplexing aspect to this album, for it seems aimed towards a different audience to the one the band would normally play to. Indeed, Chainy Rabbit expressed to me that it was the hardest album he’d ever made, and he was aware of the irony in putting so much effort into something that was going to alienate most of their fans. You’d think, then, that TRAPS might try and make it appealing to those who do listen to and enjoy this sort of music. Had this had less TRAPS-like song titles and lyrics, it could easily have been packaged to appeal to those who enjoy minimalist and dark ambient music. For example, give it the appropriate cover art, and it would probably have not raised an eyelid if it were released within the whitelabrecs Home Diaries series.
Well, I say that, but I guess there is the small issue of the lyrics. Have a look for this album on your favourite listening platform, and you’ll probably find you’re warned that the album contains “explicit” content. But, despite the lyrical content not being what you might expect to hear on a dark ambient release, it is tastefully done (even if the lyrics themselves are not always so tasteful), and fits perfectly. The delivery is completely fitting with the music, and is never the primary focus. As I listen again, I wonder why I was so surprised, and confused when I first heard this album. After all, I have plenty of bands and artists in my collection who have made quite abrupt changes in direction and style. Its because of the nature of TRAPS normal music, I console myself – but this is fooling only myself. Even within the sludgy realm, there is plenty of precedent. The Melvins, for example, have explored a variety of styles during their career – including dark ambient. I mention Melvins, because though I do not know if that band are a direct influence on TRAPS, I feel it is inevitable that they must have influenced the bands that influenced TRAPS.
One band that seems to fit the bill is Boris (who, of course, famously took their name from a Melvins song). Much of the dark ambience of Brain Wee reminds me of some of the quieter and more harmonic noise of Boris. Post Food, which follows on from Drug Trumpet, is one of the tracks that reminds me a lot of Boris (reminds is not the same thing as sounds like, remember!). The noise quotient is ratcheted up a gear with Peepeepoopoo, but it’s still an ambient noise, that can exist in the background. White noise, if you will, rather than say some of the attacks and assaults that most noise artists might inflict upon your senses. Peepeepoopoo is soon flushed away by Skag City, which is almost song-like, before falling back into minimalism.
This is one of the great tricks of Brain Wee. It plays in a manner that as a listener it is possible to be completely engaged, or completely disengaged. While there are some passages that are quite dissonant and/or discordant, it is never at a level that necessitates your attention if you’re not paying it attention. It can easily be listened to as background music (as all good ambient music should be able to be), with nothing that pulls you back; but on the other hand, there is enough going on that if you choose to listen to it, it’s virtually impossible to pay attention to anything else. I have honestly never come across an album that works so well on both levels. And the surprises keep coming. Trumpet Kitchen is almost low-key jazz, for example. The tracks vary in length from just over a minute, to over a quarter-of-an-hour, but none finish too soon, or drag on too long. Every track takes as long as is necessary to say what has to be said, and again this shows how much thought has gone into the album. Hence this review, I guess. I hate to think all this effort is wasted. A lot of fans of TRAPS might not like Brain Wee, but a lot of fans of TPA will. Give it a go! You may well love it as much as I do!
01. Smead (12:32)
02. Drug Trumpet (3:51)
03. Post Food (4:52)
04. Peepeepoopoo (1:06)
05. Skag City (4:37)
06. Cummer (4:05)
07. Bum Shelf (4:29)
08. Trumpet Kitchen (4:37)
09. Peeping Dongs (3:57)
10. Goney Hape (2:56)
11. Sleep Token Are Shit (4:39)
12. Disco Toilet (4:10)
13. Why is Lee A Racist (3:56)
14. Rules of Complication (17:00)
15. Blood Puddle (4:13)
16. Dick Tears (3:42)
Total Time – 84:42
Conceived & Performed by Max and Chainy
Record Label: HalfMeltedBrain Records
Country of Origin: UK
Date of Release: 10th April 2020