Rock 'n' roll is about reinvention; whether it's a young Elvis Presley belting out "Blue Moon of Kentucky," Joe Strummer howling Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves," or Rancid's nostalgic take on gutter punk, strikingly original rock 'n' roll tends to come from new interpretations. It's about taking the heart and soul of an old sound and revitalizing it. (The Stooges and the New York Dolls always maintained that they were just playing the blues, but Brownie McGhee and Willie Dixon are hardly what listeners initially hear on Raw Power or Too Much Too Soon.)
While Brain Failure's Turn Up the Distortion! may not revolutionize the state of punk rock today, it does have the honor of being one of the best new pop-punk records by bridging the gap between golden-age Gilman Street bands such as Operation Ivy and Crimpshrine and the band's own experience as punk rockers living in the authoritarian shadow of Communist China.
Brain Failure has been popping up on European and Japanese compilations since 1998, with write-ups in publications as disparate as Newsweek and Maximum Rock 'n' Roll. The band's shouts of anarchy on "Living in the City" take on a meaning and consequence that few American rock 'n' roll acts can compare with. When Xiao Rong sings "No Freedom/No freedom at all" on the earnest "Sail," it sure as hell carries more weight than a hundred thousand kids singing along to Good Charlotte's MTV single "Anthem."
Taking musical cues from Rancid's ...And Out Come the Wolves and other Gilman bands, Brain Failure's smooth mix of pop-punk and ska comes across as genuine and full of liberation and vitality. It's one of the best 41 minutes of this year.
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