Risk breeds the fluttering heart and tightening chest, and whether we face it boldly or meekly, by choice or on impulse, it’s the allure of the unknown that instils affirmation of life within us. Alfie Ryner’s Brain Surgery is uncharted territory, an untarnished mountain-top lake with unobserved ecosystems. I play the role of frightened discoverer, taken by the upheaval that loads every glance, rooted by curiosity. This music, loosely formed but with the stinging impact of a slap, playfully defies what you’ve come to expect from this medium, yet it takes its sincerest form: freedom.
One of the inherent merits of freedom is unpredictability, a tool at the French quintet’s constant disposal. Even in cases like opener ‘Raging Chicken‘, where the build is so thin that a bombastic drop is the reeking expectation, the eventual leap into aural fireworks arrives at such a pace and with such a unique palette that it’ll upend you every time. The mounting chatter and sax, the shackles round their ankles, beg for it, and that pivotal moment arrives not with a sense of physical release but an emotional one. The calamitous horns actively avoid forming a melody, they abandon the very notion, instead hooking and reeling by force.
Having crossed that initial frontier, the barrier of language poses the next hurdle. As a very limited French speaker, the only quote I’m really able to extract is “du Velcro, du… string!” – it’s surely nothing without its context, but it’s spat so forcefully and breathlessly that profoundness is all but assured. Brain Surgery is rife with that transcendent urgency, so much so that it’s easy to end up caught in the middle of a dust-cloud stampede, carried by the desperate horde but oblivious as to what you’re running from. Even in its shallowest moments, the din reduced to whispers and the throb of a lost bass guitar, there’s an inescapable tension that snags you like a door handle does the belt loop of your jeans.
All of the local anaesthetic-induced colours converge and reach saturation point prior to the out-of-body grand finale. ‘No Hay Mas‘ and ‘Gradation‘ deliver a formidable jab and cross of pupil-dilating, caustic majesty – starting with distorted guitar grunts and cat-wails, the former gives way to a hissed diatribe that swells like an impending building-high wave, the energy of guitar tremolo coursing throughout it. The latter follows up with an innocuous lounge band stroll that buckles underneath a wayward saxophone strayed from the course. It leads the charge until the raucous ensemble surges into a rapture of Also sprach Zarathustra proportions, but rather than the aligned celestial bodies, it ascends over my own open, spilling skull. Unwittingly, I permitted Alfie Ryner to perform a lobotomy – whatever they scraped away, I’m sure I didn’t need it.