Before releasing their first full-length last year, Whatever Brains had marked their evolution from flash-bang scuzz-punk into warped and weird post-punk pranksters across a series of singles and limited releases. So when that first long-player was finally released, barely more than eight months ago, there was an already-deep well of experience from which to draw. And so it did. Snotty punk reminiscent of the band's early days, knotty, Fall-informed post-punk and keyboard-fueled visions of melted new-wave all had their say. The Brains threw all their ideas on the platter, and somehow most of it stuck.
The band's second self-titled album, due out next month, doesn't stray so far from its center. Shorter than its predecessor by four tracks and five minutes, No. 2 is a more concentrated effort sonically as well, focusing on the tightly wound and twisted guitar riffs of Rich Ivey and Will Evans. It could be a pragmatic decision as much as an aesthetic one, as keyboardist Hank Shore left for college in Chicago shortly after recording this album's basic tracks. But it's Shore's keys that give vital depth and color to standout tracks like the anxious Spits-gone-psych "Marquee Warfare" and the frantic "Drink the Salt." Where Shore features less prominently (or not at all), the Brains have gathered some of their strongest and most intoxicating riffs to date. "I'm Going Martin" offers a particularly striking example, its mutant surf riff twisting around Ivey's snotty slur while drummer Evan Williams and bassist Matt Watson keep the rhythm locked into an insistent, driving pulse.
With the LP so focused, though, Whatever Brains risk losing the sense of daring offered by some of the first LP's more dramatic detours. That's never the case on the band's new 7-inch EP, prepared as a Record Store Day bonus for local fans only. The A-side finds the band covering hardcore heroes Double Negative ("Looking at the Rats") and new-wave weirdos Wall of Voodoo ("Can't Make Love"), each performed reverently without sacrificing the Brains' own character. On the flip, a noisy demo version of the LP1 rager "Shelves" is countered by Waumiss' slowed-down and spaced-out remix of the same album's "You're Melting."