Brownout – Fear of a Brown Planet (2018)

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On the one hand, Brownout is back with Fear of a Brown Planet. On the other, Brownout has never gone away. This is the Latin funk powerhouse’s first record in a few years, but Brownout – an off shoot of Grupo Fantasma – has been on the road almost non-stop, and issued the Over the Covers EP last summer.

While some bands are weakened by side projects, Brownout truly is more than the sum of its parts. Fear of a Brown Planet, a reimagining of music by Public Enemy, finds the band tying in elements of hip-hop and the urban angst of the ’90s with current-day xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric. It’s a terrific follow up to their earlier updates of the Black Sabbath catalog.

“Louder Than a Bomb” kicks things off with funk-infused wah-wah, soulful rhythm guitar and a muscular horn arrangement by trombonist Mark “Speedy” Gonzales. Sure, the familiar elements of Brownout music are here – the stunning guitar interplay between guitarist Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada, as well as the low end grunt of bassist Greg Gonzalez – but the sprinkles of keyboards and samples further enhance the mood.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Guitarist Beto Martinez joins Preston Frazier to discuss Brownout’s explorations of Black Sabbath songs, his early musical experiences, and his work with Grupo Fantasma.]

“Shut Em Down” is a simmering powerhouse built around that guitar interplay and the James Brown-inspired guitar work. Again, Brownout manages to create something new out of something old. Is the cosmic end solo a synthesizer or a guitar? “Fight the Power” jumps to life, as Brownout’s rhythm section propels this Public Enemy classic forward. Gonzales presses the song’s main theme on trumpet, as the song burns through the speakers.

“Trackstar The DJ to the Edge of Panic” incorporates DJ Trackstar’s turntable wizardry and synthesizer work by Peter Stopschinski. The percussion and drum interplay create an irresistible groove for the horn section to fly over. Even when coming at you this hard, Brownout music is made to dance. This song begs for a longer remix.

“Don’t Believe the Hype” kicks off with tasty snare and conga work. The Hammond organ and rhythm guitar settle into a laid-back, meditative groove, which is only interrupted by the screaming sample. The horns appear to press the main theme, recalling Tower of Power instead of Public Enemy. This is not necessarily a complaint but it seems somewhat anti-climatic, needing a simmer a little more to reach that happy ending.

“I Don’t Wanna Be Called Ni**a” gives the Martinez-Quesada guitar section space to groove over a tight syncopated track. The song has a ’70s funk-rock feel, recalling Funkadelic at its prime. Towards the tag of the song, the horns kick it up another notch. Unfortunately, “I Don’t Wanna Be Called Ni**a” fades too soon.

Next, we are quickly on to the Public Enemy classic “911 Is a Joke,” which has been covered by a number of artists. Brownout’s take is infectious, groovy and poignant. The blazing horns create a web on anxiety similar to police sirens, while the guitars tell the story. The mix includes vintage ’80s keyboard sounds, and a dance among the horns and guitars which belies the song’s original theme.

“Bring the Noise” adds even more angst with its samples, vintages keyboards and high-tension rhythm. The song’s infectious groove and drum break down is one of the album’s many highlights. In this way, Fear of a Brown Planet manages to tell a compelling, socially engaged story without using words. It also shows the progression of Brownout, an already great band that continues to press forward with a compelling, grooved-focused message.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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