Crazy and the Brains - Into the Ugly (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Crazy and the Brains

Into the Ugly (2018)

self released

Between their banging xylophone, Johnny Thunders style riffs, and wardrobe which is a cross between Richard Hell and Biggie Smalls, Crazy & the Brains aren’t a band that one associates with “sensitivity.” Now sure, the band has been delving into the personal for years- Early track “Box Room” was a direct look at mental heath. But even in those tracks, the band was reveling in insanity as much as lamenting it, and more often than not, they suggested that being nutso was kind of cool.

But on their second full length, Into the Ugly, the band surprisingly allows earnest emotion to rise above their more manic trappings. “Hail Mary” gives a sly reference to several members’ religious upbringing all while contemplating feeling chained to someone or something. Perhaps unlike some other bands that like portray themselves as stock characters who always do the “right” thing, Crazy & the Brains like to paint morality in grays. That is, life really isn’t that simple in any context, and on “Hail Mary” the band allows themselves to be cogs in the complex machinations of the universe rather than the driver that most people pretend to be.

It doesn’t hurt that for every exasperated “Hail Mary, set me freeeeeee” that singer Christoph Jesus wails, the band supports the emotion with genuine delicate, but driving tuneage. Jeff Rubin’s xylophone really does allow the band to paint in colors that many other acts don’t have. He’s able to bend the unique instrument’s pinging from a crazed charge to listless contemplation. Guitarist Ernest Young, maybe for the first time, slows down and cranks out blocky stomps, that despite having the punch of 80s hardcore, are somehow touching. See too the sonic pillars of Brett Maverick who is able to add an alternatively soaring and rumbling texture that is at once muscle-ly and tender. Drummer Jon Lango builds the drum up from a soft patting to a full on rumble and keeps the heart in the track while the room shakes.

Perhaps most interesting is how the band flips from character to character by painting surrealist foregrounds. “Hot Sauce” opens with the dark line “Please cut my head off/I’m not like you” before turning into a song about emotional domination- “Now you can’t get me off of your mind/I wear a suit but my shoulders are too large/I ain’t your boss/but I am in charge!” It’s not always clear of the band is playing the part of the good guy or the bad guy, and perhaps they’re making the argument that nothing is that simple.

It’s fitting that the album concludes with a rumbling, explosive rendition of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” (preceded by a spoken word track where the band slaps down lazy thinking and mindless retro-ism- though this track might be a black mirror re-cut of the Dead Milkmen’s “Stuart” I’ll admit). They spend the entire LP contemplating one’s place in the universe, before sending up the Grim Reaper and the trails forged before them. How interesting that a band that is going where no other act has gone before, uses the final moments of their most introspective album to look outwards salute the works of those who came before them.

It’s tempting to say that this is the band’s most mature release to date, but that doesn’t feel right. Rather, it’s their wisest release to date and finds them in total control of their vision, displaying the pretty (ripping guitar licks, pcp-style xylo-solos) and the ugly (jealously, depression) in equal measure. And more than that, it’s thrilling that after conducting soul searching, the band is twice as fiery as before, and three times as profound.