Illegal Brain by Logo (Feb 2011)

Logo Illegal Brain cover.jpg

1. Love Hotel

2. Illegal Brain

3. Love Thief

4. Nonstop Paradise

5. I Miss Your Voice

6. Ferris Wheel

7. I Saw Your Eye

8. Tidal Waves

9. Temple of Smoke

This album has so many things going for it, I scarcely know where to begin. Let’s start beyond the obvious – as I understand it, the disc has been in the incubator for a while, and there are some evident pitfalls there – overproducing songs and excessive sandpapering of the material among others. The very canny musicians who’ve put these songs together, though, have cleverly avoided them – the songs differ from their live versions in small but significant ways. Mostly, this involves toning down singer/drummer James’ vocal delivery and belligerent drum method, maintaining a constant pace, and allowing the guitars to play a larger role in the sound. This really augments their content, adding layers of subtlety to the message being delivered. Fantastic as their frenetic, rising tempo and hard-hitting quality are, that side of theirs is already displayed prominently in their live shows. The moods, ideas and the manner of their execution are perfectly pitched, with no hamming or labouring of points. Some extra elements have been added, but very judiciously, and each of these adds a lot to the sound, as on Tidal Waves.

Both visually and sonically, Logo has always been a band whose individual elements are each in their own world, so to speak – it always seems like a coincidence that they happen to manifest in the same dimension, and this means that you can choose one band-member to listen to throughout a song and be thoroughly occupied. Their style of music is extremely graphic, not only because of the lyrics but also because both guitars have intense colours and textures to them. The lyrics draw a picture, the guitar fills it in over the percussion’s primer, and the bass shines a light flashing neon red and pink over it. And what’s this picture like? It’s one of the sleazy life gone bad, intermittent withdrawal, with once-bright now-faded colours, hurting your eyes with the weight of inerasable bad memories in a stagnant, cloistral expanse. It’s the kind of music that could have paintings about it.

The album’s pacing is awesome, oscillating between express-speed and ambling songs. This change is largely lead by the bass – the drums are fast in most songs, but the bass determines whether the song gets your heart racing or your head floating, as with Illegal Brain. Bassist Yanyan applies textures that are largely bouncy, looping and smooth – very punky – even while playing Latin- or Middle-East-influenced songs, as in Temple of Smoke and I Miss Your Voice. By comparison, guitarist Chris’ riffs and solos vary greatly. The chords on Love Hotel are near-beatific, in sharp contrast with the song’s theme, while Love Thief has a whiplash of a riff, while I Saw Your Eye has teasing one, and a solo worthy of a metal band. Generally, they have a jagged grungy quality to them that jumps out at the ear. There are some psychedelic overtones, like Ferris Wheel and Tidal Waves, yes, but it’s not broody and mooning – they’re still irresistibly toe-tapping, and make you want to sing along. The drums are almost primal but highly effective, being at their best when they’re hurrying along, building up along with the axes to a song’s high-point.

The album is very lyrically dense, composed of aphoristic observations of the world and of life, with the two often intertwining. There is an element of satire to them, especially because they are sung with an earnest detachment. Nonstop Paradise and Temple of Smoke are excellent examples of this, being about the news-entertainment paradox and using the religion-ruse to disguise greed respectively. They maintain a very conversational tone, though, and on the surface are fairly un-figurative. But the surface is often deceptive, my friends.

You see, I see this as something of a concept album – I read the first-person narration as a story-arc, of a profligate after the debauchery has soured. The songs’ juxtaposed pacing indicates a seasick and hung-over mind. The lyrics represent his thoughts, which are highly cynical and jaded, to the point that things that ought to elicit any strong emotion in him are talked about as though they were nowt. There’s no self-pity in these tales, though, and they are told in unrepentant detail, but never dwelling on the more distasteful ones. The dynamic can be summed up thus – it begins with the fear of impending death, and the exhausted character then secures some artificial relief. In this haze, turns his attention to his shallow emotions, including love, trapped within his head, but is suddenly jerked out of it, when disenchantment finally turns to disgust. My theory – this is what happened to the Prodigal Son to make him return home.

The flipside may be that these things may be too subtle for some listeners, as skill is well veiled by simplicity in the album. But that problem’s on the listener’s end, and even a light listen is highly enjoyable. This album is right up there with the best releases by HK bands, and it’s well worth spending some time on. At the very least, you’ll find the album fun and dancey – at most, it could become part of your regular discourse.

— Shashwati Kala

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