Brainkiller – Colourless Green Superheroes (2013)

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A trombone/keyboards/drums trio doesn’t guarantee that the music will be progressive, exciting or unique, but Brainkiller offers no such letdown.

That’s what I took away from their first album The Infiltration from a couple of years back, from a band that went many years without a drummer until Herman Hecht came along. His late entry in all likelihood helped in the long run because the old duo of Jacob Koller (keys) and Brian Allen (trombone, effects) were forced to rely on each other more heavily and the strong bond since formed remains evident now that they’re a threesome.

Taking many artistic cues from Ray Anderson’s BassDrumBone ensemble and many other marquee improvised music ensembles, Brainkiller’s debut is wild, unpredictable, and open to music forms outside of jazz, like prog and psych even as they revel in jazz’s free spirit.

And now, Colourless Green Superheroes is pending as the follow-up. This album carries over a lot of what made the first album arresting, starting with their flair for packing a fistful of ideas within the time span of a Top 40 single. That makes them not so jammy even though you know they could do it, but conciseness is a virtue, too.

What’s different about the new long player is that improvisation gives way somewhat to composition. That’s not such a bad thing, it merely means the surprises are shifted from the solos to the scripted odd twists and turns of the songs themselves and their arrangements (Koller and Allen give Hecht much of the credit for that). It also signals that the band continues to push forward with their evolution, even though the place they started was already a good one.

And there’s an increasing confidence in their own songwriting skills.

Brainkiller, though, are masters at the art of deception. They can play loose and open and not make you realize it’s all premeditated. They can also make you assume it’s a band with a bassist and sometimes even a guitarist, but there isn’t. “The Vindicator Returns” which begins the disc, has all the features in forces in the span of a little over three minutes. “Scribble” jerks the listener abruptly between some electronic, math circular figure and a loping funk groove.

“Empty Words,” a first-time attempt at group songwriting, features a warm, experimental pop texture with effects and the wordless vocal of Japanese electronic music singer-songwriter Coppé eerily swirling about. Koller switches to piano for “Top Of The World” and at times when the song temporarily locks into a groove, it sound like instrumental Ben Folds. “Orange Grey Shades” feels like chamber jazz, and “Noodlin'” does just that, that is until the band suddenly breaks into a motif strikingly similar to John Scofield’s ascending figure groove “Protocol” from Still Warm.

That’s just a cross section of the ideas, concepts and shards of inspiration they undertake within the span of thirteen songs. In sizing up The Infiltration, I closed with “zany and fearless, Brainkiller isn’t taking their time developing their own sound; they come right out the gate sounding like no one else. They are already cooking up their follow-up album, and I can’t imagine what they’ll do for an encore. But I’m anxious to find out.”

Well, I found out, and while they’re not quite as unhinged here as they were then, I rather like the more considered approach they took to their music. It makes them more of a complete package, and thus, Colourless Green Superheroes is a step forward for a band that already has much going for it.

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Colourless Green Superheroes goes on sale July 16 by Rare Noise Records.

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