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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Matador picks up Whatever Brains

Posted by on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 12:03 PM

Well, kind of: Matador Records—current and/or former home to lil' ol' bands like Pavement, Superchunk, Sonic Youth, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Sleater-Kinney, Bardo Pond ... I think you get the picture—will distribute Mt. Whatever, the three-song, two-side 7-inch from the Raleigh quartet Whatever Brains.

We've been raving about the Brains for the last few months ("Raleigh's best new band," "shaggy garage punk sing-alongs," "Rookie of the Year" ... I think you get the point again), so this tickles us, of course. It's also big news for Bull City Records, the store/ label that made Mt. Whatever its first release ever. The first batch of vinyl is on the way to Matador any day now, and I'm also supposed to say that Brains frontman Rich Ivey occasionally writes about music here. Oh, also, if this band was a snake, it woulda done bit Merge Records by now.

For the full review of the 7-inch and Whatever Brains' Soft Dick City tape, which runs in tomorrow's print edition, jump off that there diving board.

WHATEVER BRAINS

SOFT DICK CITY CASSETTE/

MT. WHATEVER 7”

(self-released/ Bull City Records)

In the half-hour it takes to hear Whatever Brains’ Soft Dick City—a spray-painted, cassette-only release bookended by a screeching Urinals cover and a Johnny Cash sound-collage sabotage—there’s little question what this Raleigh quartet is about: This is a band that can’t sit still. From The Urinals homage and the Johnny Cash sacrilege to the hooky-and-hissy space between, raw enthusiasm comes tied together with jagged and noisy interludes.

Within that jittery impatience and irreverent ruckus, witness a consistency of style that’s not just uncommon but mostly unknown for such a new band. And Whatever Brains has done it twice now. Just as Soft Dick City feels spontaneous in its noise and spittle-lipped in its urgency, the subsequent Mt. Whatever 7” feels self-assured and somehow meticlous in its relative professionalism.

The three tracks that comprise Mt. Whatever—two of which, the title track and “Summer Jammin,” are reprised from Soft Dick City—come out cleaner, which is to say less shrouded in feedback, but no less excitable. On the 7” version of “Mount Whatever,” cooed vocal harmonies turn to roars behind Rich Ivey’s snotty snarl (Ivey is a contributor to the Independent Weekly). Jagged guitars spike harder, but with less static. It sounds no less primal than on the tape, where a droning rumble cloaks the song, making it rough and rowdy. The no-fi charm and noise-fueled unification of Soft Dick City is exhilarating, but the same holds—just in different ways—for Mt. Whatever’s half-polished fits. The tape trades undulating feedback and squelching electronics for the single’s basic guitars-bass-drums setup. Neither suffers the exchange.

Taken together, these two releases—both issued on formats you may consider obsolete—are defiantly good but defiantly inaccessible for mass markets. Just 500 copies of a 7” and a handful of cassette tapes remain as the lone artifacts of the band’s existence to date. This is the sort of sticky stuff that could be huge, though (we’ve called these Brains “Raleigh’s best new band,” and we’ll echo that here). Collectors and early listeners are rewarded, then, with two very different but complementary releases, each of which keeps its best track—Soft Dick City’s “Swhatever” and Mt. Whatever’s b-side, “Crass Ringtones”—proprietary and isolated. This is the stuff from which anthems, legends and eBay auctions come.

What functions as a two-part debut shows Whatever Brains to be a band born fully formed, a more prickly and brash cousin to Ivey’s defunct Crossed Eyes, but with a similar foundation on pop-structured punk. Indeed, it’s Whatever Brains’ greatest virtue that, behind the din of scorched amps, shattered chords and snot-rocket singing, there’s a gooey bubblegum center charged with immediacy and drunken abandon. —Bryan Reed

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