Brain Failure - American Dreamer (Cover Artwork)

Brain Failure

Brain Failure: American DreamerAmerican Dreamer (2005)
Thorp Records

Reviewer Rating: 3

Contributed by: adamAdam
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Brain Failure's American Dreamer is the sort of punk rock record that's both incredibly fun and sort of ridiculous. Even with the lyrics sheet in front of me I have no idea what anyone's saying, but at this level of energy silly things like lyrics just get in the way anyways. To call Brain Failure t.
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Brain Failure's American Dreamer is the sort of punk rock record that's both incredibly fun and sort of ridiculous. Even with the lyrics sheet in front of me I have no idea what anyone's saying, but at this level of energy silly things like lyrics just get in the way anyways. To call Brain Failure the Chinese Rancid really isn't too far from the truth, as that band's influence is all over American Dreamer.

Much has been made of Brain Failure's origins and it's worth repeating. Formed in `95, the band was one of the first to self-release a demo in China. They were a large part of the scene that revolved around Beijing's infamous Scream Club, with frontman Xiao Rong becoming somewhat of a stylistic pioneer for the nascent Chinese punk movement. However, if there are great tales of cultural oppression or state censorship in Brain Failure's past, it's certainly not evident on this record (although, and I digress, many North American reviewers have tried to push this angle and come up grasping at straws). Most bios circulating online claim a relative level of stability and economic prosperity in the PRC created the conditions where a band like Brain Failure could exist, and that's likely closer to the truth.

Brain Failure recorded their second album American Dreamer in Boston under the wing of Dropkick Murphys principal Ken Casey. Musically, this is well-trod territory with shades of Sham 69, Stiff Little Fingers and the multitude that followed them. Xiao's mastered the Tim Armstrong slur and sounds unbelievably similar to the Rancid frontman on tracks like "Stay Free" and "Summer Afternoon." The band instrumentally follows suit with that influence and has peppered American Dreamer with a handful of 3rd wave ska-punk tunes. The upstroke guitar and bouncing bass lines of "Second Hand Pogo," "Such A Dangerous" and "Holy Bullshit" sound like they could have come straight from the summer of 1997. The record struggles from translation issues and the band's stumbling English is distracting at times. In fact, the band seems to hit their stride on tracks that mix English and Mardarin, particularly "Played" and "Human." These songs sound the most comfortable and least derivative of the bunch; the latter in particular sports a very cool rock'n'roll vibe courtesy of guitarist Wang Jian.

Since the international nature of Brain Failure is hard to ignore, the real question here is what American Dreamer represents. Is it the unheard voice of a vast and culturally complex population expressed through the universal language of punk rock? Or is just it a testament to the global popularity and unending influence of the Clash (or maybe more specifically Rancid)? Brain Failure's a lot of fun, but this record is clearly the latter. Furthermore, that begs the question if it's really fair to focus on the band's nationality at all. Should they be expected to represent something profound or novel just because of their origins? If the answer is no and we're choosing to ignore cultural context, then the only logical conclusion here is that Brain Failure plays fun and proficient but highly derivative post-Rancid street punk, and there's a hundred other bands out there doing the exact same thing.


People who liked this also liked:
Rancid - Rancid (2000)Time Again - The Stories Are TrueStreet Dogs - Fading American DreamSublime - Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & FriendsThe Clash - Give 'Em Enough RopeCock Sparrer - Shock TroopsGood Riddance - Comprehensive Guide to ModerneThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundDillinger Four - C I V I L W A RFar from Finished - Living in the Fallout

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
ifgabeldiesiwilldie (January 5, 2009)

wait so this was released in america?

seamusohooligan (September 28, 2006)

While I agree with the reviewer's assessment of Brain Failure's stylistic influences, I would argue that he's missed out on the band's defining characteristic and greatest asset: this is a street punk record made with no discernable self-important posturing. When was the last time an American (or European) band pulled that off?

Even tracks like Second-Hand Pogo, with it's laundry list of stereotypical punk gear and slogans, is delivered with such earnestness that hearing a punk band talk about their Docs becomes almost fresh again. Or take Summer Afternoon; with it's repeated assertion that "She's so happy with me!"; this track, in the hands of an American band, could come off as hopelessly sappy (a la emo), or sarcastic. But listining to the singer, he sounds midway between boastful and unable to believe his good luck. The only other punk band I can think of that could've pulled a line like that off was the Buzzcocks.

Even the tougher tracks (I'll use Listen to My Back as the example here) are infused with that same earnest joy. A line like "They may be all fucking gangs/ they may be all fucking cops/ I don't know if this place is safe..." has never sounded like so much fun.

Is it ridiclous to look at the possibility of gang violence/ police brutality that way? Sure it is. Was it also ridiculous when the Ramones sang "Shoot em in the back now!" during the middle of a song that was essentially a throwback to pre-Beatles pop? Damn right. Punk has always toed the line between menace and fun with sometimes (but not always) ridiculous results. If Brain Failure can inject some fun back into the equasion then that's great.

Anonymous (June 17, 2006)

haha ~I like them~so cool

Anonymous (June 17, 2006)

haha ~I like them~so cool

Anonymous (October 11, 2005)

I haven't heard this new LP yet. But I just saw the band yesterday in LA -- hadn't seen them since 2002 and before that 1999-2000. I actually think their music, spanning over their earliest recordings 'til now forms a very compelling body of work. But I haven't listened to the knew stuff produced by the DKM people. I wonder what it would've been like to have someone like Spot from old SST Records record them?

I thought the review was good. It was intelligent and mature. But I think this whole notion of originality and derivation is facile.

I think it's true that the "dangerous" angle has been put upon the presentation of these bands (I'm "guility" of that myself). However, it ignores the fact that indeed the PRC is is comprised of a cadre of tyrants who do form a capricious and arbitrary rule. Though I'm not an expert, I'm pretty caught up on the most recent studies of government and politics in China, and even with the heightened prosperity, we shouldn't be under the impression that if the gov't thought any form of popular, artistic expression was a threat, they'd take it down. One noted Chinese scholar says that it's important to think of PRC gov't crackdown as something that happens in waves. We may or may not be at the nadir -- but that shouldn't disuade us from realizing that playing subversive music in China is still dangerous.

Oh yeah -- shout out to Rusty Mohawk.


Jaco Crash

Anonymous (April 30, 2005)

Kickass live band


lushj (April 29, 2005)

1. (and don't forget Ratos De Parao from Brazil!) I love a lot of the Spanish and Scandanavian versions of punk too- something about the 2nd and 3rd interpretations of punk filtered through individual countries really brings the capital "P" Punk, ya know? Here's some from the past few years (excluding the ridiculous bands of the 80s like Kortatu, Asta Kask, etc. Spain: Aerobitch, Pleasure Fuckers, Nuevo Caticismo Catolico, Scandinavia: Randy, Turbonegro, (I)NC. As for Japan, they know how to ROCK!

2. Just got a copy of this Brain Failure cd- wow! I'm pretty happy about the inclusion of some non-English singing (too many non-english bands feel forced to sing in English) and the overall record. Haven't listened to the whole thing, but played #4 on a KALX talk show I work on since we were speaking with a KALXer who called in (via internet) from Taipei, Taiwan. It's a lot more together than their early stuff, but still not too pro. A lot of Rancid influence, for sure. Thumbs up!

kenfuggit (April 28, 2005)

When people talk about international bands, they always seem to focus on Japan. I personally think South America has some of the coolest styles of Punk/hardcore - especially Mukeka di Rato from brazil. Those guys are fucking huge down there, bigger than nofx in some parts.

lushj (April 27, 2005)

About Hang In The Box and Thug Murder connection- I don't think there is one.

There's a post-TM band called Last Target, there's a history of the band http://sister.co.jp/LUCK/index_e.html

There's a translated history of Hang On The Box here:
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&u=http:/ /www.sister.co.jp/hang_on_the_box/index_e.html&prev=/search?q=%22 hang+on+the+box%22+&hl=en&lr=&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en -US:official

or put "Hang On The Box" into google and press "Translate This Page" for the sister.co.jp page that ought to be one of the first listings...

inanechild (April 26, 2005)

That song "Second Hand Pogo" is great, but because of the unclear English, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be an ode to punk rockers and their lifestyle or an attack on fashion punks.

gladimnotemo (April 26, 2005)

"Thug Murder are great, yes, but aren't they Japanese?...check out Hang On The Box"

I read somewhere that Thug Murder broke up, and some of the members are in Hang On the Box...maybe I'm wrong?

I've been waiting for this CD for a while after hearing their song on GETB, but Thorpe just kinda slipped this one out with no advertising or anything. I heard they're ridiculous live.

Anonymous (April 26, 2005)

I saw these guys live with the unseen like a month or two ago. They were really fucking fun. I had to purchase this cd, I mean, they came all the way from China. I don't listen to it constantly, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I do.

jamespastepunk (April 26, 2005)

Is husking bee's put on new paint cd worth buying for 3.99?

lushj (April 26, 2005)

Thug Murder are great, yes, but aren't they Japanese?

If you're being a creepy dude looking for Chinese gals playing punk rock, check out Hang On The Box. They came over here with Brain Failure (last year?) and were really varied and really fucking good. There was a bit too much Robert Smith worship in some of their songs, but the straight ahead tunes kicked butt!

Xine (April 26, 2005)

I just love this band. They put on a great live show.
Perhaps they are a bit Rancid-esque in the singing style, but that's always good. I love Rancid. (I have 2 Rancid tats)
They are just a lot of fun and love what they do.
Brain Failure rocks.

Benjasaurus (April 26, 2005)

Go ahead and call me racist (I'm not) but seeing Chinese people with lacking English playing punk rock is pretty funny live, if only because it's not a very common sight. Musically, they're tight and their ska songs definitely came across the best live. Their second guitarist has a crazy beard and wants to be Tim Armstrong incredibly badly.

Anonymous (April 26, 2005)

I like Thug Murder better.

They're hot, at least.

ElVaquero (April 26, 2005)

Adam, thank you for mostly avoiding the pitfalls of reviewing this band from a strictly American perspective. If you do remove the Chinese element or gimmick, there's not much originality there at all.

As for the topic in general, it is hard to remove yourself from the perspective of "foreign band" and keep everyone on a level playing field, but it is possible. Not that I'm necessarily recommending it for this site, as the majority of the user base will approach the music in exactly that manner (see the guy talking about his favorite asian bands for an obvious example).

If a lot of the international scene does seem to lack a lot of originality, it's almost completely the fault of the record labels that sign and tour those bands domestically. It's safe to find a band that successfully plays the music that the American audience is accustomed to. That said, there's also a vast multitude of bands that do put some very interesting and unique spins on punk-related sounds, but it's only a few extreme cases like Polysics and Melt-Banana that are able to create an audience for themselves. The bands that fall somewhere in between weirdness and uniqueness (what I might call "the vast majority") aren't picked up for market. Additionally, in a lot of cases (Ging Nang Boyz, most strikingly), the bands don't even need to pursue foreign markets since Japan is often a much more fertile market for unique punk and rock music.

Anonymous (April 26, 2005)

My favourite Asian band remains Mad Capsule Markets, with Hi-Standard close behind. This stuff is okay, but not much different to most Hellcat street punk.


Anonymous (April 26, 2005)

Not bad, but boring. I wish they'd come up with their own trademark Chinese punk rock, rather than sounding like every other street punk band, that's one of the best things about the international music scene- the diversity.

nineden (April 26, 2005)

Excellent review. I'm from LA but I'm living in Beijing through the end of the year. I agree that country of origin is definitely important because in some places a majority of the odds are against you if you're a punk or in a punk band. That's the way it used to be in LA back in the 80's. (I'm 32 which is probably twice as old as most people on this stie.) Despite the lack of originality, Brain Failure deserves to be heard and, as someone else mentioned, even given a bit of a handicap because their scene was non-existent when the band started.

PS - There are several good punk bands here nowadays and no shortage of shows either. Furthermore, the CDs sell for less than $3 each.

RedScare (April 26, 2005)

This review is maybe the most interesting thing I've read all day. I agree with Jesse in that you have to put this band in context, and ANY band that is the founder of a nation's punk scene should get a 2-star handicap.

I was at the same Brain Failure show as ol' LushJ in Berkeley, and I've also seen their countrymen Reflector at Gilman. Great live shows, even by my jaded standards.

Glad that Adam did his homework on the PRC and it's bands. I'm sure it's a pretty tempting angle to work for a PR person, but even that Aubin nerd knows that China has the fastest growing economy in the world. The Canadian-Chinese axis of Communism us undoubtedly on the rise.

Anonymous (April 26, 2005)

Dude, who the fuck runs thorp records? They put out something as fucking cool as Chinese punk rock one minute and the next one, they are pushing the worst beatdowncore jocktarded shit on the planet.

lushj (April 26, 2005)

I can't wait to hear this. For more info and sounds of Brain Failure and other Chinese punk, you can go to http://maximumrocknroll.com to the Radio Page to the Specials Page. There you can download or stream a series of radio shows I did on Chinese punk and underground rock with my buddy Rusty. He's an anglo who spent a ton of time in Beijing with Brain Failure, Anarchy Jerks (my faves of that early group of bands), Reflector, and more. He also talks about the history of rock in China, from Cui Jian to the all-female pop metal band (I forget their name) through the punx of the abandoned bomb shelters that became Brain Failure and the rest.

He brought in demos, cd-rs, and another Chinamusicologist to add more information. Some great music and some not-so-great music.

Still, I disagree with this review- context is really important in this case. They've always been covering Rancid and Op Ivy, as well as the Clash. All 3 bands had HUGE influences, as far as I can tell, on the early punk scene in China (which WAS in 1997-98). You can hear them covering those bands in some of the live tapes of the time. Dig in!

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