Friday, January 26, 2024

Bad Brains-I Against I; SST Records, 1986


For the past few weeks Disaster Amnesiac has been doing a deep dive/obsessive listen to Bad Brains late 1986 I Against I, and has desired intensely to write about it. That being said, the question has arisen, over and over again: just exactly how can such an incredible album be given justice with mere words? I've been spinning it with a fervor much like the one myself and others that I knew did upon its initial release way back in the Reagan Era, resonating with its righteous intensities and pondering any and all manner of its messages, both musical and lyrical. Spinning it on the player during the day, spinning it within my perceptions at night, over and over again and again for days now. This third prong of a masterful trifecta (ROIR tape to Rock For Light to I Against I), it stands, obelisk-like, and seems to defy attempts at any kind of adequate description. As its sounds whirl within the ears and the brain, another question emerges: how in the hell did Bad Brains produce this singular and absolutely unique set of tunes? We all know the back story of how a group of D.C. kids began their musical career by obsessive study and practice of Jazz Rock Fusion, followed by a pairing down of their approach necessitated by an awareness of Punk Rock and its vital primitive shock to established thinking. Additionally, we all know how volatile a group Bad Brains were. By the time of I Against I's release, this groundbreaking Hardcore band had already disbanded under clouds of indignation and God knows what else at least once, had already become legendary, exalted by many and disdained by many others. HR's vocals on Sacred Love were recorded via the phone bank at Lorton Federal Prison, and let's just say that he was not on the visiting side within that awful place when he did so. Can you imagine the kind of stress that he and his brother Earl, along with Daryl Jennifer and Dr. Know must have been feeling during I Against I's production, with factors such as Federal imprisonment adding to their burden? It's no damn wonder that this album's more Hardcore tracks such as I Against I and House of Suffering burn with such palpable fury. Across all of the years, that fury still burns intense and brightly in ways that leave most of the more generic sounds which Bad Brains inspired in the dust. The music which came into being as a direct result of Bad Brains inspiration often sounds dated and one dimensional; this is not the case on tracks such as these. Yes, Bad Brains were Hardcore, but they were also something completely different from Hardcore. Find the proof of that on Secret 77 and Hired Gun. One can hear the Go Go of the District and the Funk of Minneapolis, but these elements are just that, elements within a unique, self-created voice of a singular band. She's Calling You could have and should have been a massive hit in 1987. I was listening to Pop music at that time, and the song fits in nicely with the actual hits of that era. From Dr. Know's guitar phrases to Earl Hudson's tight, minimal beats and HR's vocal delivery, all of the elements are present. And I ask again: how did they come up with this? Here in 2024, a track such as Return To Heaven is probably more needed for its desperate, Biblical subject matter. Re-Ignition? Its style has not even been explored by others yet, and, let's be real, others probably just can't cop that, try as they may. That question arises once more. Who were these men, and how in the heck did they cook this stuff up? I Against I, please let me go for a while! There are others records that I want to play! 

End Note: for years now, Disaster Amnesiac has wanted to see HR put together a cosmic, Sun Ra Arkestra type of project. It's high time that he, along with the other Bad Brains, go completely Free Jazz. Could you imagine how unhinged that would be? C'mon guys, give it a shot!

No comments: