Domesplitter is one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s permeated with a sense of I-don’t-give-a-fuck swagger that’s frankly infectious. “Fuck you, get pumped!” has become something of a “No Future” for the modern punk and it’s led me to believe, that of all the pop punk bands and of all their girls, cars, and food aesthetics; that none of them love fun as much as Direct Hit! But, something strange has happened to the Milwaukee trio in the meantime, something I could have never expected. They matured.
I’ll get this out of the way immediately: Brainless God is a masterpiece. There’s no doubt in my mind that this their best album. But those expecting another Domesplitter might be disappointed. This is not another scream as loud as you can party punk album (although it’s not entirely not that either), this is Direct Hit! showing off their musical chops and aiming higher. Brainless God is a concept album about the end of the world packed with catchy, aggressive tunes that unite perfectly into a cohesive whole.
The main musical theme is a slight variation of the melody from the New Years’ standard “Auld Land Syne.” On the opening track, “On & On” it forms the starting point for most of the vocal melody and conjures up imagery of mirth, confetti, and celebratory drinking. It’s an atmospheric opening that paints the picture of a world at the end of the line, and with a single fade out and a raucous “Fuck you, get pumped!” it becomes the drinking song of the century. It’s a reminder that even with their new found vision, Direct Hit! hasn’t changed.
The follow up, “The World Is Ending (No One Cares)” is a fast, biting song that shows how Direct Hit! have revamped their sound. In the past, their most defining features were Nick Woods’ pervasive sing-song bark. Brainless God features a lot more traditional singing, but they still bring out a decent amount of throat-shredding. While some may scoff at this as the band losing their edge, I see it as Direct Hit! finally learning the importance of dynamics and juxtaposition. Used all the time, the screams become ubiquitous and lose their power, but on Brainless God their appearance is positively invigorating.
“Buried Alive” is an incredibly catchy song that runs in the long tradition of Direct Hit! playfully revealing their darker interests. This one is about a serial killer, and has one of Brainless God’s most delightful couplets: “so, he doesn’t have to please her, just apply a kitchen towel soaked with ether.” It stands as a subversive story told from a point of view we don’t usually here, and also a satirical meta-twist on pop punk’s own fascination with relationships. The imagery is so rich though, that I can’t help but feel it deserves to be taken somewhat in earnest. There’s a feeling of sadness that surrounds the eventuality of his pursuit in the face of the end of the world, made all the more poignant by its ending lyrics that suggest that all of our actions are as easily lost to time and cataclysm.
“We’re Fucked” is a relentless hardcore song– ratcheting up the intensity with furious instrumentation, including a guitar solo reminiscent of Brian Baker’s work with Bad Religion. It’s these kind of flourishes that have alleviated the biggest criticism that could be made of Direct Hit! in the first place, their relative sameness in large doses. Brainless God remedies this so well, that their diversity has become a major strength this time around. While their songwriting has already been top notch, their more nuanced sense of arrangements and dynamics have allowed their skill to really shine through.
“A Message to the Angels Pt II (Brainless God)” ends the album with a reprise of the “Auld Lang Syne” melody and a surprisingly upbeat message. Brainless God, in all of its brilliance, is the ultimate party album. It’s ending is beautifully defiant, in a way that makes me unashamedly admit that it gave me a lump in my throat. In all their lyrical wisdom, Direct Hit! sum up their feelings on the apocalypse succinctly with this: “you can bet we’ll shake these gates until they fall, and you can bet we’ll cut your heads off one and all. ‘Cause you cut our party short now and it’s time to prove something to you: us sinners don’t take kindly to last call.” Later in the song, they go on to say: “your brainless God should take some time, climb off his throne, and give us all an explanation of his own. We want our whiskey bottles back now, our guitars and amplifiers, because this night ain’t over until we say it’s done.” If you can’t see the beauty in that, I’m not sure I want to know you.
Brainless God moved me. It’s fucking fun, sure, of course it is. But, there’s so much more to it than that. It’s genius in how it weaves its tale, but more so, its ultimate catharsis is powerful enough to actually validate its concept. And in a world where everyone writes a concept album at one point or another, that’s saying something.
Fuck you, get pumped!