Bad Brains

Bad Brains is a hardcore band formed in the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. The band immediately drew attention to themselves for being the only all black punk band in the area. It is interesting to see how their marked skin is an inescapably visible characteristic that has changed the way the public views the band. Bad Brains was known for their combination of ruthless hardcore punk and laid back reggae on a single album. As one of the fastest bands of the time, Bad Brains was highly respected and inspired many bands to get started in the hardcore scene. The later albums feature more experimentation with the implementation of other genres, but due to a fluctuation of members the band lacks a cohesive sound throughout their discography. Their self-titled debut full-length album, Bad Brains, is a sonic barrage with oases of relaxing dub/reggae injected between crunchy, bellicose tracks.

Unlike Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains doesn't really have a logo per se. The group does commonly use a stylized font of their name constructed of 3 different colored layers: red, yellow, and green, a reference to the band's Rastafarian roots. In choosing to not have a logo for the band, the members could have been trying to avoid being tied to a symbol that wouldn't represent their music down the line. Though the decision to not have a logo may not have been a conscious one it reserves the band an interesting space in a genre that consistently rewards bands who have identifiable logos with hordes of fans willing to tattoo, graffiti, and sketch their favorite artists symbols anywhere they can.

Bad Brains' self-titled album, easily my favorite of all their efforts, might be taken as a reggae album strictly judging by the cover. The red, yellow, and green evoke thoughts of Rastafarianism and act as a visual confirmation of their religious affiliation; Bad Brains "simultaneously [honors] the past--- including its ideas, traditions, and mores--- by recreating it, and [transforming] that same past, by inventing an revising it" (Maskell 412). The logo-esque text "BAD BRAINS" appears on the left side of the cover rotated 90 degrees so that the words go down the album vertically. In the center is a picture of the downtown D.C., the Brains' hometown, with the capital building in the foreground and the Washington monument in the background. While the Washington monument seems to be included purely to help identify the particular city being depicted, the capital building is the main focus. A bolt of lighting is striking the top of the Capital causing the dome to crack and collapse. The Capital building, in this case, serves as a metaphor for the United States and the lighting bolt is no doubt analogous to Bad Brains. The band not only shook up D.C. with its hyper-fast instruments and cackling lyrics, but also the local punk scene itself. I would normally attribute the minimalistic design of their self-titled album's cover to lack of funds, but in the case of the Brains I feel like the simplicity is intentional and says, "We don't care about the looks. You came for the music and we delivered". It's interesting to consider the band's scarcity of visual presence in regards to the color of their skin; perhaps Bad Brain's didn't really need an iconic logo or controversial album artwork; maybe the band relied on their notoriety from being the only all black punk band to cover the need for visualization, but if you ask me it was the music that made them a success.

On the backside of the album are the standard amenities that most records have: track listings, production credits, etc. In the top right corner of the album is a picture of the band. The group is dressed completely unlike any other punk/hardcore band at the time; they look decently well put together, definitely not like a punk band. HR even has a gold necklace on, something that I don't think I've seen many punk front men wear. In comparison to their notorious live shows, the band looks relatively relaxed and serious. As a band that wanted to be known as the fastest band in the world they look incredibly juxtaposed.

Since their beginning Bad Brains has experienced turmoil and creative differences. Some of the members wanted to take the band in a more reggae direction while others wanted to go past punk to heavy metal. These clashing creative routes caused the band to break up and reform quite a few times as they churned out their nine studio albums. Amidst their diverse discography, the band has made some interesting sonic decisions and strayed far from their roots as the fastest band in D.C. The guys in the band remain friends, unlike Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, and continue to play shows, albeit somewhat randomly. I was fortunate enough to catch them at Ghoul Fest in Houston a few years back. They were in great form, played all the classic songs, and with the intensity I had always imagined a Brains show would hold.

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