David Brenner’s Gridfailure is back with a new EP and ready to unsettle the human mind with more audio shock therapy. Scream Blast Repeat are delighted to have the honour of broadcasting the premiere of Epicenter MMXX: Quarantine Instrumentals following this year’s excellent Sixth-Mass Extinction: Skulduggery II album.
You can call this dark ambient, experimental, power noise – anything you want. Like Chinese torture, Gridfailure is about subtlety and mental torment. It’s a meditation on our impending doom. The Covid-19 menace continues its reign of social disruption and shows no signs of going away any time soon. Like most people, Brenner retired to his garage to record the anxiety of government-imposed lockdown. “My wife and I moved from Brooklyn to just outside of NYC about over ten years ago, and most of what we do, work and personally, is in the city. Most of our friends are there. We live minutes from the initial East Coast epicenter that broke out in New Rochelle in March,” he explains.
Ironically, the weeks leading up to the lockdown were some of the most memorable of the year. “The last days of February and early March, I was out with my brothers in Today Is The Day launching their record in NYC. The First week of March I filmed a video for Kool Keith x Thetan’s LP, then played a Gridfailure show in Queens. It was almost a magical week or two of career and personal highs and very productive, fun times with friends. Days later, the city and state basically just closed; quarantines were imposed, and life as we knew it changed overnight in the country’s first lockdown for Covid-19.”
Epicenter MMXX: Quarantine Instrumentals is Brenner’s attempt to make sense of the panic unfolding all around him in the only way he knows – to translate the distress into music. “The fear, isolation, and intensity of the situation immediately set in, and remains the same now six months later. So, I performed, recorded, and mixed these songs during these past six months, attempting to capture a bit of the tension, anxiety, and depression that has been surging through me, without writing lyrics or implementing any vocals. It’s not meant to be a comfort in a time of anguish. This is the sound of that distress.”
Undoubtedly, Gridfailure’s best quality is the cinematic nature of the music. Every composition has a scene from a film you dare not enter but cannot avoid. This may be an EP about the most serious health pandemic to threaten the world since the Spanish Flu of 1918, but the magic of Gridfailure is Brenner’s ability to invite the listener to find their own world and their own dark impulses in the ambience of the songs.
To illustrate this point, Scream Blast Repeat’s Jack Von Bismarck describes the images conjured in his mind by each track and invites you to imagine your own visual story by strapping on your headphones and subjecting your mind to a healthy dose of dark introspection. In contrast, Brenner provides us with a commentary on each song and how it represents a specific stage of the Covid-19 lockdown.
We give you Epicenter MMXX: Quarantine Instrumentals and let you find your own meaning behind the captivating music.
Track #1: A Shortness of Breath
David Brenner: This opening track was meant to simply capture the tension, anxiety, panic, and confusion that impacted us the first few weeks of the pandemic. An earlier working title for the song was, ‘Panic Aura Breaths’ – the stillness of the hanging fear, watching literally thousands of folks simply start dying all around us, the government in denial of what we were seeing happen right on our doorstep. I have asthma and Lyme Disease which makes me an exceptionally prime target for this virus. Afraid to step outside, living in terror of simply taking a breath. This is what the news refers to as, “the new normal.” Instrumentation on this song – Bass Guitar, Analog Drum Machine, Pedals/Efx, Xylophone.
JVB: This song is the personification of panic, but I imagined a different scene. It’s Vietnam. 1968. You wake from your daze. Was that concussion you experienced? The tinnitus in your ears is still ringing out. Tree barks and bracken give off the scent of burning peppermint. Is that the sound of a helicopter in the distance? You look around and see dead bodies. Ugly distorted faces and unnatural spasms frozen in the agony of death. Faces with jaws missing and eyes melted into the flesh like squashed cockroaches splattered on the floor. Everything is in slow motion, even the way you move your hand to your face to check you’re still alive. The whole platoon is dead, and you are the only survivor. A Shortness of Breath is the ambient sound of the horror in your head. The phantom blade of the motor engine in the background. The faint meditation of a male baritone hum merged into the drone of the atmospheric keyboards. And those sporadic windchimes agitate yet hypnotise you. Will you make that chopper and escape this abyss? Will you be the last one out of Saigon?
Track #2: Depression Floodgate
David Brenner: Once the initial terror passes for a bit each day, the depression sets in, and does not let up. Its vile grasp gripping me in unrelenting tentacles of fear of contracting the virus. We do not see our friends and I have not seen my family back in Pennsylvania since late last year. When the floodgates open, you are powerless against the deluge of anxiety they have been holding back. Plodding, dragging, gnarled, rhythmic flow surges unharnessed and unhinged through your existence, which lies just downstream from this dam of emotion. Instrumentation on this song – Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Analog Synth, Electronic Drums/Percussion.
JVB: I get what you’re hoping to convey here, yet I had the storyline to an urban legend in my head as I closed my eyes. It is the legend of the girl who starved to death in an abandoned oil tank trailer and now haunts the dreams of children in the village. Parents talk of how her abusive mother locked her inside one until she perished. Every year on the same day, at the same time, the residents startle at the distant sound of hollow banging. This song is the soundtrack to the urban legend. Snare beats collide with the wisp of the pressure gauge and the hum of depreciating machinery. Loops of guitar compressions with heavy gain ghost in and out of the void. The annual ritual ends with a crescendo of muffled notes, distorted and dissonant.
Track #3: Surge Capacity
David Brenner: Only days into the lockdown, I turn on the news at some point in the middle of the night/early morning because I’m not sleeping for more than an hour or two. The anchors are covering hospitals in all five boroughs and these surrounding suburbs being overrun with dead bodies. Reporting shows that every hospital in the area is reaching surge capacity; they cannot handle the amount of infected and dead citizens pouring into their walls. This phrase itself is as terrifying to me as the concept. Surge capacity. Instrumentation – Drums/Percussion, Acoustic Guitar, Pedals/Efx, Field Recordings (train/yard).
JVB: Again, I get a horror film vibe, and I don’t mean anything dramatic or climatic. I mean one of those scenes where we see the maniacal killer in a moment of melancholy. The message is clear. Do not disturb Leatherface when he’s sharpening his tools in the solitude of his workshop. The regular pulse of the gas furnace gives him the inner peace he craves. This is the steady rhythm he needs to concentrate on his craftsmanship. Do you think a psychopath is without emotion? It is no mundane chore sowing human skin into a mask. In the darkness, he works best. Slow but methodical and with much room to enjoy the company of the spectres that will never escape him. The writhing souls of the dead remain trapped and in infinite pain in this house. He is their tormentor. Prick up your ears and detect the phantom violins among the piano bass keys.
Track #4: Refrigerated Trailers
David Brenner: Due to the overrun hospitals, the amount of our fellow citizens dying at such an explosive rate, city hospital morgues immediately filled up, families were not allowed to claim their fallen kin for burial, and they began bringing in refrigerated trailers; fully commercial-sized trailers you see 18-wheeler rigs hauling on the highway. These were to store the dead bodies. Hundreds of bodies per trailer. Funeral homes were even forced to bring in cooled trucks, and in at least one neighbourhood, citizens reported a terrible stench coming from one private funeral home. The authorities found an illegal and improperly cooled trailer full of rotting bodies. Simply ghastly, and terrifying. Instrumentation – Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar, Analog Synth, Pedals/Efx, Field Recordings (bicycle ride).
JVB: The presence of death is everywhere in this composition. It’s scary down at the harbour in the early hours of the morning. The regular gust of wind is your only friend. In the distance you might hear a foghorn. You fumble with your thermos flask and curse your situation. Then a motor engine startles you. You glimpse a dark figure two hundred yards to your right. What is that guy loading onto his boat. Are those body bags? Why does he need a blowtorch? And what is he burning? The cackle of the drum snare is like an incinerator on low power mode.
Track #5: The Plague Rains
David Brenner: Spring showers turn to summer storms, and now, the pandemic has exploded across the entire country. New Yorkers have struggled and sacrificed for months to contain the outbreak, and our numbers are dropping, but it’s just beginning in many other areas. So, quarantine continues. Sitting here, staring into the rain, clenching jaw and fist, trying to keep that depression floodgate closed, but the plague rains fall, the virus tides rise, and the cycle of contagion repeats. Instrumentation – Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Analog Drum Machine, Analog Synth, Keyboard, Field Recordings.
JVB: The weather stood out for me in this song as a metaphor for a bleaker future. But my imagination conjured up a secluded house in a mystical forest. The arrival of rain is always an imperious event. Even at its most rapacious. But why are the people in the woodlands working at this time of night? They call themselves timber merchants, but rumours abound that the family once held a passing hiker as hostage and subjected her to all kinds of sadistic torment. Another girl disappeared two weeks ago. The third in seven months. You know this reclusive family is responsible. There’s no turning back now. You shudder as you feel for the gun in your holster. No owls will guide the way. The drones are getting louder. A morass of distorted square waves burrow into your brain.
Track #6: Proximity Negativemantra
David Brenner: The proximity negativemantra is the song that fuels me when I need to venture into the public; the “stay the fuck away from me” vibe. A once relaxing trip to the market for fresh produce and supplies, the ideas busting through my imagination of what great meals we will make that week – that’s all suddenly gone. Shelves are bare, human scumbags are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, millions of livestock are simply gassed and killed because nobody can run the farms, millions of tons of food wasted in large fields in the Midwest while out-of-work families starve, and these stubborn anti-mask false patriots continue to act like they’re being persecuted for a left wing hoax. You can try that with somebody else, but you are wise to heed my proximity negativemantra, for if you cross my path within six feet and no mask, you will feel my vicious wrath and you will lose. Instrumentation – Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Electronic Drums/Percussion, Pedals/Efx.
JVB: Yes, the tension is the most prominent feature in this song. Yet for me the year is 1984 and I’m in a cinema. It’s the opening title sequence to a Wes Craven horror film and Depeche Mode’s A Question of Lust is about to kick in. But there’s no melody here. Only a sample of a dissonant harmonica note crying out for a soak of spit to enliven its scales. The people in the theatre dare not move. Look at that young couple in front squeeze their hands together on the arm rest. Will somebody have the guts to release a sharp intake of breath?
Track #7: Lifedraguir
David Brenner: This title is simply an anagram for Gridfailure. This project is an entirely grim and demoralising venture overall; this title just happens to have a very specific focus. This song is sort of a summation of all these months, and I thought the rearrangement of the band name sounded like “life dragger,” as in, “life continues dragging on.” It just felt like an appropriate title for the closing track of this EP. With zero end of this pandemic in sight, a terrifying clown in charge of our country which feels as if it’s in a new civil war, and half of the country in flames, we shall all continue to live in constant dread of what comes next. Instrumentation – Bass Guitar, Thumb Drum/Percussion, Keyboards, Pedals/Efx, Field Recordings.
JVB: This song spoke to my dark side. “You should know better than to capitulate,” it said. Don’t give in to hope. You could break down these walls, get into your car and get it over with. The gap between thought and deed is not the chasm you imagined. If only you did hear voices. Then it would be so much easier. Is that a police radio outside? What is that distorted click sound that makes your toes curl in your shoes? Somebody will pay tonight.
*** Gridfailure’s Epicenter MMXX: Quarantine Instrumentals is available on all good streaming platforms from 25 September 2020***
The EP is up for preorder on Bandcamp here: https://gridfailure.bandcamp.com/album/epicenter-mmxx-quarantine-instrumentals