Various - The Brain Box – Cerebral Sounds Of Brain Records 1972-1979 review

Retrospective of a classic German label – plus free tote bag!

Various - The Brain Box – Cerebral Sounds Of Brain Records album artwork

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Labels such as Island, Harvest, Charisma, Vertigo and others that flowered in late 60s UK weren’t merely stylistic barometers. Through their adventurous signings they shaped the musical weather of the day. Such was their centrality to the scene, their imprimatur bestowed status upon those artists lucky enough to be picked up.

That respected benchmark of quality certainly applied to Germany’s Brain Records. Founded after Bruno Wendel and Günter Körber quit as A&R men in 1971 at the equally influential Ohr label, Brain quickly established itself as a clearing house for an impressive cast that included Scorpions, Cluster, Grobschnitt, Os Mundi, Jane, Guru Guru, Thirsty Moon, Novalis and Emergency, and this eight-disc celebration brings together some of the most important players in that now culturally dubious catch-all known as Krautrock. With all 83 tracks remastered by Grobschnitt’s Joachim Heinz Ehrig, the box set boasts upgraded sonics and a 76-page hardcover book of essays and biographical thumbnails of the runners and riders therein – a very useful one-stop guide to an important imprint.

A very useful one-stop guide to an important imprint.

Brain licensed international groups such as Atomic Rooster, Tasavallan Presidentti, Gryphon and others represented in this collection but it’s their eye for domestic acts for which the label’s reputation rightly resides. Many exert a period charm that’s often heavy on cathartic percussion that’s more to do with participation than precision. Such extended boogie and freak-out sessions, heavily daubed with the primary colours of rhythm, volume, distortion, have an almost shamanic resonance to them. Kicking back against the political and cultural pressures of the times, there’s a wilder, unfettered expressiveness that’s quite different to whatever else was fuelling the musical revolution unfurling in Europe at the time. Despite that propensity for rocking out, Brain housed a diverse roster. As well as embracing a jazz rock aesthetic they enabled the likes of Tangerine Dream and Popul Vuh, acts who radiate a force that’s oblique but never less than compelling. Though Schicke, Führs & Fröhling were similarly invested in 70s-era synth modernity, their sound has contrasting folkloric connections. The putative dance culture throbbing within Cluster’s loops is also clearly discernible, though potential buyers of this set should note that Neu!, arguably Brain’s most influential export, are absent due to contractual wrangles. Distilling the work of such a broad-ranging label is never easy but the striking creativity corralled into this box remains powerful and worth spending time exploring. Oh, and how about that cool Brain-branded tote bag for added collectibility!

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.