Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You Wanted a White Flag, Right? The Brannock Device Refuses to Let Up

The only moment I sense hesitation on The Brannock Device's EP Into the Witness Chamber comes at the beginning.  Marco Pascolini's guitar tries out three chords, lingering on doubled notes, shimmering. It's like he's put his key in the ignition of a very powerful machine, and he's taking a moment to admire its fine lines before firing it up. He vamps around searching for a riff, and, when he settles in, the Brannock Device roars to life.

Or maybe he isn't admiring the machine. Maybe he's simply enjoying a moment of peace before he has to contend with all of the varied forces that drive this band. After all, the drums on opening cut "Sightseer (I Read It So It's True)" are built around a charging fill. The bass pattern may only have four notes, but it moves as fast as those drums.  Even when the band coasts behind Elaine McMilian and Jason Beers' declamatory refrain, the bass keeps pulsing, the snares stay shimmering and the guitar flashes light through the spaces between.

In a recent interview with KC's The Deli, drummer Bernie Dugan says The Brannock Device is "about pushing and being shoved, but in a good way." He's ostensibly talking about what it's like playing drums in the band (like everyone in The Brannock Device, he plays in a few), but he also sums up something elemental about this particular group. The Brannock Device is no one's elevator music; it won't stay in the background.  In an age when it's an asset for music to sound alterna cooing through your workplace computer speakers, The Brannock Device promises to make your cubicle unapproachable. It's assaultive and manic and brilliant.

Into the Witness Chamber isn't an ironic record; it's a record filled with irony.  On "King of the Soapbox Derby," some jazzy equivalent of slapstick incidental music answers McMilian and Beers' stentorian calls to "Know This! Believe This!" The whinging complaint of "Monochrome" begins with the boldest herald here and finds its way to some of the record's funkiest guitar and bass exchanges. "Into the Witness Chamber" seems to race forward with all of the energy of every other song, but the beautiful melodic bass riff highlights the dread in the vocals. And the album ends with "Deus Ex Machina," which swings from McMilian and Beers managing a delicate Anglican choral rendering of the title before dropping to a bloodthirsty call to "unleash" whatever kraken might bring this violence to an end.

Nope, you're not getting your reports finished while this thing's on.

You are getting four of Kansas City's finest musicians throwing all of the raw energy of punk into a head-spinning, groove-centered improvisational charge against the very idea of limits.  Maybe that's why there's a particular poignancy to a song like "The Consequence of Hope," which climaxes with McMilian's soaring admission to "going nowhere" intertwining with Beers' rougher-edged agreement, both trying to leapfrog out of the truth even as they name it.  Or there's the way the guitar on "You Wanted a White Flag, Right?" never stops searching for a way out despite the rest of the band's pounding admissions to being beaten down, despite the fact that the bass and drums seem to pace and flail in vain.  Pascolini's guitar lights a flare behind the voices, and the song ends with its cries of inspiration bouncing against the walls of some echo chamber.

As surely as the lyrics on Into the Witness Chamber suggest a band that has been beaten enough to sound convincingly cynical, the music argues hope's consequences certainly include a few dreams come true.  As much as they poke fun at the arrogance of the loudest voice in the room--even when it's their own--the members of the Brannock Device make a case for dreaming big and fighting hard.  When I hear "King of the Soapbox's" "Know This! Believe This!," I can't help but smile. A soapbox fighter myself, the Brannock Device is shoving me with its satire, and I'm shoving back with an equally earnest counterweight.  If the derby sounds this true, damn straight I believe in every beat, every rhyme and every word.

Know this--