Andy Sutton: bass, loops, programming, vocals.
Al Sutton: loops, programming, editing, keyboards, vocals, percussion.
Eric Hoegemeyer: drums, percussion, programming, editing, keyboards.
Philip Durr: guitars, bass, keyboards, melodica
Damon Che: drums on 'Asian Love Song, What?' and 'Space Mannequin'
Sue Lott: vocals on 'Empyrian'
Recorded @ Rustbelt Studios by Al and Eric.
Mastered by Chris Goosman @ Baseline Audio Labs.
Artwork by Mark Dancey.
I am a huge fan of Small Stone Records, some of the music to come my way over the last 3-6 months has been nothing short of intense (Tia Carrera excepted!!) and then this album came through the door from Über Röck HQ and totally threw me.
From a schizophrenic viewpoint I can't even come up with an opinion on it which doesn't vary from day to day. God knows what an audience will make of it? But is there anything wrong with music pushing my boundaries or anyone else's for that matter? Isn't that what music is for? So what have we got then? Giant Brain provoked some very strange thoughts I can tell you, Klaus Wunderlich for the new generation being one and stoner 'lounge music' as another. The bulk of the album is instrumental - there were some vocals in 'Empyrian', various samples at other points, but overall lots of bass driven keyboard style with some "nasty" at times guitar overlaid, lots of sampled drums, but also live drumming; confusing to my non-muso brain (no wonder I'm all over the place).
Where do you go for influences? There's a bit of space rock, a bit of driving techno, some nice stoner guitar so the bands I tend to veer towards trying to pin it down are all over the place, from the Orb (remember 'Little Fluffy Clouds'?) to Hawkwind, elements of Steve Hillage and Gong (nod towards Mr Edwards for re-introducing me to them, actually buying me a ticket after a drunken Friday night Facebook conversation). But looking deeper and darker there's a bit of not so chaotic Can about them.
Ultimately though I still can't decide what to make of this offering. I have played it numerous times and no individual song sticks, I listen and then have to re-listen in order to get something to sink in hence the lounge music quote earlier. You have to take the album as a whole and let it play in the background, and finally drift off with the lapping waves in 'Drowner' before air sea rescue picks you up as the album plays out (listen you'll see what I mean).
On a final point the album has one of the greatest song titles ever, 'This Is Where The Robot Escapes His Evil Captors, Finds Ray Gun And Plans Revenge' - Nuff said. I would recommend giving this album a go - make your own mind up....but be prepared.
- Nev Brooks
The cover artwork of GIANT BRAIN's second album reminds me of the days when customized mix tapes made the perfect personal gift for someone else. I can't remember how many tapes I've recorded between 1982 and 2000, but it was always a pleasure. Maybe the guys of GIANT BRIAN have felt the same way and this is their visual tribute to that time. The music is not as vintage as the artwork, although 'Thorn Of Thrones' includes musical quotations from the early 1970's and mid 1980's. GIANT BRAIN is still deeply ingrained in electronic sounds, but in contrast to their first album 'Plume' that was also released by Small Stone Records, 'Thorn Of Thrones' offers more guitars and more sonic experiments. The more I listen to this album the more I'm getting conviced that this is not only a deep bow to bands like Neu!, Hawkwind, Can or Kraftwerk.
Obviously these guys are aware of the fact that Detroit was not only the birthplace for high energy rock and soul, but also for groundbreaking techno music, and that they've a close-knit feel to the varied musical history of Detroit. One of the highlights is 'This Is Where the Robot Escapes His Evil Captor, Finds Raygun, Plots Revenge', a song that combines compelling grooves with loud outbursts of percussion, while Phil Dürr's guitar is responsible for rockier moments. All nine songs are instrumental with exception of 'Empyrian' featuring Sue Lott on vocals as well as the Sutton brothers. Although the music on the album is very varied it forms a really interesting and strong whole, so that it's possible to detect new sounds and elements with each listening sessions. This is very good music, and even if you hate words like techno or electronic music just give GIANT BRAIN a chance...
The U.S. car industry may be spinning down the drain, but that isn't stopping Detroit’s Giant Brain from producing an album of heavy rock just waiting for zipping down the open highway - or should that be Autobahn.
The men of Giant Brain were the minds behind one of formidable stoner rock label Small Stone’s best offerings of 2007, 'Plume', and on their sophomore outing they've kicked things into even higher gear.
Starting with the Kraftwerk-loving opener ‘Relentful Resentless’, ‘Thorn of Thrones’ speeds along on the spiralling leads and hammering riffs of guitarist Phillip Durr, Andyl Sutton’s motorik bass and the loops of his brother Al.
It’s mostly an instrumental effort – barring mid-album track ‘Empyrian’ and a few soundtrack snippets - with the band keeping things fresh by altering the sound on various tracks. For example, ‘This Is Where the Robot Escapes His Evil Captor, Finds Raygun, Plots Revenge’ a blown out sound to accompany its kooky title, while ‘Asian Love Song What?’ gets Asiatic strings and a dubby percussive background.
It’s not all an attempt to break the speed limit: ‘Phones’ takes a side road, with echoing percussion trailing behind distant guitar, while ‘Water-Bored’ blends the sound of water with a sinister drone and minimalist piano.
For fans of experimental rock, space rock, or Small Stone’s usual crowd of rockers, ‘Thorn of Thrones’ is a trip well worth taking.
- Andrew Carver
Thorn of Thrones is the second album from Detroit collective GIANT BRAIN. Like the band’s debut Plume, Thorn crossbreeds Germanic space rock with the muscular power rock for which the Motor City is so well-known, and the results are just as impressive and engrossing. The formula remains the same: former BIG CHIEF guitarist PHIL DÜRR applies his acid guitar expertise over a variety of grooves and settings prepared by the brotherly studio duo of AL and ANDY SUTTON. The founding trio is joined on this album by drummer/keyboardist ERIC HOEGEMEYER, late of the tragically unlamented GOLD CASH GOLD, and, on two tracks, drummer DAMON CHE of DON CABALLERO. The group excels on the usual epics – check out “Gooser,” “Relentful Resentless” and the brilliantly titled “This is Where the Robot Escapes His Evil Captor, Finds Raygun, Plots Revenge.” The band also adds a couple of ambient tracks in “Phones” and “Water-Bored,” and “Empyrian” boasts a Giant Brain first: lyrics and vocals, provided by the Sutton brothers and SLOT singer SUE LOTT. Everything fits together like pieces of a puzzle, with the music taking you on a journey through inner and outer dimensions. Spinning through space, Thorn of Thrones soothes the soul.
- Michael Toland
After the debut called PLUME the band is back with a perfect mix of Space Rock, Stoner Rock and Kraut Rock. First I have to mention that the cover artwork is awesome! Like some old C-90 CHROME Tape, awesome! I study every detail on that artwork. Andy Sutton (bass, programming, keyboards), Philip Durr (guitars, effects, drums, vocals), and Al Sutton (loops, programming) stand behind that band and have their classic Stoner backgrounds with Five Horse Johnson, Don Caballero, and Big Chief. The opener RELENTFUL RESENTLESS shows some techno influences, with some programmed beats, which got spared with some Space Rock music. And that programmed beats are the backdrop for some jams. Not easy to listen to it. THIS IS WHRE THE ROBOT ESCAPES HIS EVIL CAPTOR, FINDS RAYGUN, PLOTS REVENGE and ASIAN LOVE SONG WHAT? went the same direction. It is very interesting to listen, but I prefer straight forward kick ass heavy groove Rock music. But again, it is very interesting, these long jam-sessions on that computer sounds. EMPYRIAN features some smooth vocals and a cool beat and excellent acoustic guitars! PHONES is like a soundtrack and fits perfect into that record before GOOSER features a good riff and bounding drums. This beat and song is the highlight on that record. SPACE MANNEQUIN is again a song with a good drive and WATER-BORED is again only a sound of flooding water. DROWNER end this record with a great jam! Techno, programming, jams, improvisations … this is THORN OF THRONES. Read this review as a compliment.
Thorn of Thrones, Giant Brain (Small Stone) - Classic Detroit boogie echoes through a soundscape of processed beats, live drums, Deep Purple keyboards, and acoustic guitars. Mostly instrumental, it wanders purposefully and, when it does get lost, a torrent of electric guitar savagely enters to act as a compass. Highlights include the pounding “Relentful Relentless” and the delicately lovely “Asian Love Song What?”.
- Lee Ballinger
After glancing over the personnel involved in the project known as Giant Brain, expectations were high when pushing "play." Phil Durr (Big Chief) plays guitar; Eric Hoegemeyer (Deep See Sound System, Rustbelt Studios) takes drum and percussion duties. And Al Sutton (Rust Belt Studios) is in charge of the loops, programming and keyboards. Al's brother Andy Sutton, however, is the main Brain. It's the bassist's vision here; his extraordinary way of dismantling the very idea of a song and reconstructing it in a manner that only he could have foreseen is exactly makes this band (and I use that word loosely) so exciting.
Giant Brain is largely an instrumental project - "Empyrion" being a very obvious exception - and that's an approach that undeniably works for the group. Thorn of Thrones isn't a conventional rock 'n' roll album by any stretch of the imagination. It's even at least partially inaccurate to define it as "rock 'n' roll. Instead, it serves as the ambient-stoner soundtrack to a yet-to-be filmed (and probably not filmable in the first place) movie that Andy Sutton has flickering in the back of his mind.
So, is this record self-indulgent? You betcha. But its biggest plus is that the musicians behind the project seem to care little about whether anybody likes their music beyond themselves. Still, as was so often the case with Zappa, a little bit of effort heaps great rewards. Like an onion, Thorn of Thrones has a multitude of layers that peel off one by one with every listen. Songs like "Gooser" grow in stature the more you hear them until, by the seventh or eighth spin, they sound simply epic.
This certainly isn't an "instant" record. It features no obvious singles and it will likely receive zero radio play. But it is brave, unique and extremely personal. And in today's homogenized music world, that's very rare indeed.
- Brett Callwood
I have no idea what Thorn of Thrones means, and I seriously doubt even the band does, but giant Brain really seems to be bringing a lot of cool new goofy things to the table, yet they're the same old good stuff at the end of the day.
Let me explain: Imagine Jeff Beck back in the day joining a kraut rock band instead of heading towards a more fusion oriented style. Dirty, distorted and tasty blues rock solos sprinkled on top of these electronic, synth-driven and psychedelic old school kraut rock gems. Think it sounds good? Wait till Jeff suddenly realises his friends Tony and Ritchie are doing this new thing called riffing and gets hip to some smashing fuzzed out, at times industrial sounding, big guitar rhythms.
This band of four has everyone doing a good deal of fucking around with an assortment of instruments, noises and samples to give shape to this baby. I mean, if the first few songs fit the earlier description perfectly, one guy pulls out his damn acoustic guitar for 'Asian Love Song What?' and another adds layers of eclectic string sounds to do something completely different. Empyrian too, takes an arpeggiated acoustic riff and adds a lot of psychedelic soul to it, and an upbeat vocal chorus over strummed chords, followed by another truly Jeff Beck moment during the solo, all resulting in a splendid vibe around the middle of this album.
Coming after a couple of softer songs, Gooser might take a while to build-up, but when it's on, it's the most driving and pure display of 70s anthemic riffs during the chorus, perfectly interspersed otherwise with the band's influences drawn from Can, Faust and the likes. This is the kind of throwback that you hardly get to hear - a cool blend of fuzzy hard rock, psychedelia and kraut rock. It's a bit unexpected coming from Small Stone, but after the initial surprise wears off and you let the album grow on you, you can really hear why this such a cool addition to this fantastic label. Well played.
- Srikanth Panaman
Small Stone is my favorite record label, ergo I get dumb for the raft-load of rock they float down the river every year. That's fan boy gurgle, but this one has got that outside/inside appeal that generally doesn't get tagged as "rock" standard. Whirring, circular rhythms soundin' local in Germany in the early '70s at a Faust or Can show, and guitar warmth/groove with "classic rock" stroll roots, abstracting the best tones and chords to make really great "Rollin' down the Autobahn/ I-94" road music. They dip up to classic tremoloed chill-out tunes like "Sleepwalk" and burble noise interludes too. I dunno how much the ass-end is programmed, but this stuff has pan genre appeal: Their bong can be hit loaded with stoner, indie, space, and psych weed, and the highness shall provide a positively wiggley cruising in yer space buggy ride.
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, which is graciously spread before you. You'd be a real stupe not lay on the couch eating grapes, watching Discovery Channel's Flying an' Diving special on slo-mo. Really: Watch an egret hit the water at 25 mph (slowed to one-tenth speed), sink 15 feet, reappear in a corona of bubbles with a glittering fish in the beak and let the "ohh-ah!" wonder slide over yer mind. Just be cool and tell these guys how great it is they laid out the perfect soundtrack. Ya know, it can't cost much more than a couple weeks salary to get'm to set up in yer living room for five hours (hey, it's yer house), set the TiVo to the animal stuff, and lay on the floor and soak it all in.
At times, Giant Brain touch the airier Monster Magnet psych-pop, then go swirling through the '90s Too Pure label stuff (Th' Faithhealers and Moonshake piss in the same pot), and yep, Kraut rock of various strains (Guru Guru, fer sure), plus whatever electronica a Sabbath fan might dig. When not acting up, Giant Brain's post-ambient/trance swell washes up on the shores of the "hearts of space" with enough twirl for our favorite Siamese twins to dance to a bunch of it. And then, here comes the guitar: I'll bet this guy likes Foghat! The warmth and the general "Hey, c'mere. Have a beer to wash down that LSD/Xanax thingie yer girl just gave you" feel of the whole thing makes me hope there's a couple hundred thousand "free yer mind and yer ass will wallow" groovers out there. Fuck, why not? Fun matters, getting out of yer head matters, feeling human matters. If not, get outta the gene pool, yer holdin' us back. Smoosh it into the iPod with Cul-de-Sac, Kinski, Neu, Fuzzhead, Farflung, Miles Davis, Perplexa , Mogwai, The Orb, Can, O-rang, Syd's Pink Floyd, Vocokesh, and Queens of the Stone Age.
- Craig Regala
Don't be fooled by its oddly "black metal" title; Thorn of Thrones doesn't see Giant Brain swapping the predominant Kraut rock influences found on their fine 2007 debut, Plume, for cacophonous Satan worship on this, their second long-player for Small Stone. Not even close, actually, and, if anything, charter bandmembers Andy Sutton (bass, programming, keyboards), Philip Durr (guitars, effects, drums, vocals), and Al Sutton (loops, programming), sound even more committed to their novel musical experiments than before -- just retaining enough of their classic rock backgrounds (with Five Horse Johnson, Don Caballero, and Big Chief) to produce notably un-robotic Kraut rock. Take opening number "Resentful Relentless," for example: its name may smack of Kraftwerk's "Europe Endless," but its driving analog drumbeat, stinging guitar leads, and warm Hammond organs have more in common with Deep Purple's "Highway Star." So too does the ensuing hypno-rocker "Gooser," but other songs engage in more ethereal and atmospheric pursuits, including the dreamy sway of "Empyrian" (featuring rare vocals) and "Drowner," the immersive electronics of "Asian Love Song What?" and "Space Mannequin," or the Cinemascope soundtrack snippets of "Phoner," "Water-Bored," and the self-explanatory "This is Where the Robot Escapes His Evil Captor, Finds Raygun, Plots Revenge." Because of their compositional variety and exploratory daring, it's fair to assert that these tracks represent Giant Brain's true coming of age as a proper band, instead of some glorified side project, while proving that one need not ride on the actual Autobahn to feel the rhythm of its curves (and living in the Motor City probably helps).
- Eduardo Rivadavia
When I say it’s hard to classify Detroit experimentalists Giant Brain’s new album, Thorn of Thrones (Small Stone), understand it is a compliment, because the band’s obvious intention is to be more than one thing at one time. Complexity is a virtue, and if their electronically-influenced stoner/Kraut groove is anything, it is that; drawing on classic ’70s prog as much as heavily distorted modern power riffing (you can hear it on the charmingly and cumbersomely titled “This is Where the Robot Escapes His Evil Captor, Finds Raygun, Plots Revenge”), their sound could put off a lot of heads who either can’t get past the inorganic sound of programmed beats (there are natural drums as well) or who are just unwilling to dig through the band’s sonic puzzle and identify the familiarities beneath, but if we all didn’t have to work once in a while, boundaries would never get pushed.
The mostly instrumental outfit could easily be put off as a vanity project from Al Sutton, producer for the likes of avant-mathematicians Don Caballero and Small Stone mainstays Five Horse Johnson, but together with his brother Andy (who handles the programming and bass), former Big Chief guitarist Phil Dürr and drummer, etc., Eric Hoegemeyer (Deep See Sound System), Sutton taps into a level of versatility that goes beyond mere showing off. The Porcupine Tree-esque acoustic/electric interplay of “Empyrian” — think In Absentia-era — and the straightforward driving riff that propels the eight-minute-long “Gooser” gives the impression that rather than jam out parts and see what happens, Giant Brain pieces begin with specific sound ideas and are fleshed out from there. Little wonder Andy is also listed as responsible for “concepts.”
Thorn of Thrones is unlikely to leave anyone who hears it without an opinion one way or the other, since even if one can’t find something in the dancey “Space Mannequin” that you can’t relate to, it’s undeniable that the song and indeed the rest of the album boasts enough personality to warrant a reaction positive or negative. Though the tracks at times feel more like part collections or maybe science experiments that got out of hand than actual songs, Giant Brain are nonetheless fostering a unique approach to classic prog and Kraut rock. Considering all the bands out there content to retrofy and rehash what’s been done a thousand times before, any respect they get is well earned.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I’ll be listening to Thorn of Thrones while driving around the valley with the windows open and the stereo turned up. More of an intellectual experience, Giant Brain’s music demands a careful ear and at very least several listens before a decisive verdict is rendered. I might like to see them focus more on cohesive songcraft next time, and if they were to congeal around a particular sound, to do so around that of closer “Drowner” — led by acoustics with subtle keys in the background - but, with improvisation a big part of their sound, they’re likelier to thrust themselves further into their own sonic multi-directionalism. So be it.
- H.P. Taskmaster
Thorn of Thrones? Up until about five minutes ago, I could've sworn the second album by Giant Brain was called Throne of Thorns. It makes more sense, albeit in a black metal sort of way.
But hell, this could've been called Diaper of Thorns and I still would've gotten a kick out of it. Like debut Plume, this nine track album is a damn near note-perfect mixture of Kraut rock and stoner rock, a record that thumps along with a consistent, machine-like rhythm but still manages to keep an earthy feel. Tracks like opener “Relentful Relentless,” “Gooser,” and “Space Mannequin” border on techno, with their surplus of programmed beats and assorted audio effects, but the interesting thing is how the band manages to use this seemingly restrictive style as the backdrop for improvisational jams. If anything, being shoehorned into a lockstep groove opens the band up.
What's most appealing about Thorn of Thrones is how Giant Brain tweaks the conventional but never so much as to lose its immediate appeal. Strip away all the computer-driven layering and you still have a band that knows the ins and outs of a good song or two. Recommended.
- John Pegoraro