Bad Brains: Build a Nation

Punk godfathers produce another slice of intense thrash mixed with reggae.

Bad Brains

Build a Nation

Label: Megaforce
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
UK Release Date: 2007-06-25

My first exposure to punk rock was a show during high school at some dingy all-ages club off the west edge of the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. I haven’t the faintest recollection who opened the show, but I remember quite clearly watching as local hardcore heroes Active Ingredients brought the house down with a set played at breakneck speed, closing with a contemptuous track called "I Hate MTV", its chorus sung to the old MTV jingle. That show sent me down to Bear’s Wax, my local used record store, to explore punk. I started with releases by local punkers Squirrelbait, and moved on to nationally known bands like Circle Jerks, Fear (most famous for the classic "Let's Have a War"), the Minutemen, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, the Dickies (responsible for gems like "Stukas Over Disneyland" and "You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla)"), and dozens of like-minded bands I’d only read about in the pages of Trouser Press.

Unfortunately, I was never able to find a copy of Bad Brains’ eponymous debut, released in 1982 on the cassette-only imprint ROIR (Reach Out International Records). Not surprisingly, none of the local record shops in Kentucky stocked it, though I did manage to hear their seminal (sorry!) single "Pay to Cum" on one compilation LP or another. Ultimately, Bad Brains turned into the punk equivalent of the Velvet Underground -- their debut release didn’t sell a ton of copies, but everyone who bought one started a band. Artists as diverse as Glenn Danzig, 311, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, Living Color, Tony Kanal (of No Doubt), and Billy Corgan have cited the band as an influence.

Produced by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, Build a Nation (the band’s first release in five years) features the punk godfathers’ classic lineup of mercurial vocalist H.R., guitarist Gary "Dr. Know" Miller, drummer Earl Hudson, and bassist Darryl Jenifer. As with previous releases, the band switches tempos and styles easily, moving from short blasts of blistering thrash to laidback reggae to heavy metal and back again. And it’s their ability to incorporate such diverse influences into a sound that’s uniquely their own that sets them apart. Ultimately, however, listening to a Bad Brains record is a disjointed experience. Those expecting a 30-minute blast of frenetic punk may be put off by the occasional reggae, while those hoping for a mellow, positive reggae album may be startled by the ferocity of the band’s punk tracks.

Build a Nation is no exception in that regard. Starting off with the muscular punk of "Give Thanks and Praises", the band cranks through the album's first three tracks in a breathless five-and-a-half minutes before abruptly slowing things down with the dub reggae of "Natty Dreadlocks 'pon the Mountain Top". After that brief interlude, the band returns with another five minutes of breakneck thrash (on the title track and "Expand Your Soul") before getting back to the reggae with "Jah Love".

As a band Bad Brains still sounds pretty good, despite the five-year gap between recordings. Unlike some of their barely competent contemporaries who flamed out after an album or two, Dr. Know and company always had solid musical chops, having started playing together (without vocalist H.R.) as a jazz-fusion act called Mind Power in the mid-'70s. Somehow, the band is able to seamlessly incorporate elements of metal, thrash and reggae into its sound -- often in a single song, such as the intense, yet somehow still funky "Universal Peace", where Dr. Know and Jenifer switch effortlessly between hyperkinetic thrash and muscular metal riffing, with H.R.’s positive lyrics laid over the top. Build a Nation is another credible slice of intense, fundamentally positive punk and reggae -- Bad Brains are still going strong, nearly 30 years after exploding out of the Washington, D.C. punk scene.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.