What’s in an involuntary gesture? We’re used to framing it as a loss of control, but we could also conceive of tics and physiological tremors as a bodily effort to take said control back, to call the attention of an ignoring mind to truly direct it towards the present. Meditation can only take you so far, and perhaps it is through this restlessness that our whole persons connect to the strain and the struggle of vitality exerted. Brace Up! with its exclamation points and its hectic pace, moves across this intuitive terrain, sounding like a math-rock record but subverting any abstractions by a racing mind, opting instead for a pre-cognitive communication between two musicians truly at play.
Like the memetic cover image, there’s a pattern laid out in this music that doesn’t come from the usual seriousness of improv, but from its more humorous side, in which laughter joins the company of the stressful tic and the strain of a hand held “still” as an involuntary burst of energy. Every track finds joy in the spontaneity of the destruction of a planned-out structure, each player, like the carelessly dangerous punk pit of the cover, audibly wasting their efforts in a progression of sheer exhaustion. Tics, tremors, and laughter are, after all, also governed by rhythm, an expenditure measured in weird off-kilter time signatures that blow apart the regularity of the mind and make it fail, shattering thoughts to pieces until concentration of any kind becomes impossible. But these strange rhythms innate-yet-alien to our bodies also put emotions into the blender, like an annoying hiccup that comes to dominate a person in such a way that it ends up provoking the most useless of actions (we’ve all been there, trying some silly remedy that’s more akin to games and magical thinking than to any sort of reasonable science).
An involuntary gesture is the basest form of expression, its un-rational nature a grand happy waste, the closest to a free improv interplay we can get, and Brace Up! thrives with a potential ready to be expended; the quick, angular exchanges between Orcutt’s guitar strikes (fiercely expressionist but also just brutal) and Corsano’s machinegun drumming (incredibly precise and yet chaotic) almost inevitably makes the experience of listening one of spastic recognition of flows and sudden changes in direction. You can’t really think or feel through this one (trust me, I had a hard time writing this), because it negates process entirely: it erupts into action, and pulls your listening straight into the blast, the fallout in the aftermath a sense of disjointedness, of having to come back to the realm of cognition, like the moment when you’re cleaning off tears after laughing hard, everything clicking back into place but always at the risk of breaking down once again. The laughter always wants to return – “joy wants eternity” – but cognition holds it in place, our energy saved so as to safely restore the world of seriousness.
It’s too bad this album ends, its “Bargain Sounds” and base spasms stopping all too suddenly, but the subsequent silence does allow us to realize that bracing up, holding everything in to prepare for a coming onslaught, is worth it only if we make sure to spend it all in the most useless ways we can think of. So let’s be good punks, gather all our friends, and gleefully smash ourselves against the walls and each other as this wonderful duo plays jagged cuts at breakneck speeds. (David Murrieta Flores)