Pray for Brain is a band unlike any other. This instrumental ensemble pushes the envelope and is refreshingly impossible to categorize. Rock, jazz and funk, along with a range of South Asian and Middle Eastern influences, slip between traces of surf, rockabilly and country in a great mix of cultures that twist and turn at the drop of a hat. The band emerged out of Sama Duo, formed by Mustafa Stefan Dill (guitars, oud) and Jefferson Voorhees (drums). When the pair jammed with Christine Nelson (upright bass), an instant connection was shared and a trio was born.
None of the Above captures the unexpected magic of the Albuquerque-based group in an exciting way. The opening track, “Drop the Needle,” leaves a lasting impression and gives an indication of Pray for Brain’s approach; slightly abstract, improvisational and experimental, yet clear and refined with a groove. Here is a jazz/rock composite that will eliminate any preconceived notion of fusion. Distorted wah-wah guitar and the driving force of upright bass and drums grab the attention of the listener immediately.
“Grind Responsibly” reveals the extent of Dill’s unique and playful guitar work, offering hints of John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa and David Fiuczynski along the way. The song features some nice tension and release with an angular opening giving way to a relaxed improvisation.
The oud takes center stage on “Taksim Lami,” a brief solo piece which transitions smoothly into “Sufisurf.” Droning bass and hand percussion join the electric guitar and oud on this Middle Eastern spy/surf adventure with a rockabilly twist.
After revealing their softer side on the slow, jazzy “Waltz,” Pray for Brain charges ahead on “Five,” one of the most ambitious and rewarding tracks on the album. The band lets loose with an ominous opening, building a head of steam as the song advances into some heavy Bengali progressive rock.
This trio is full of endless possibilities. It’s hard for a group to maintain consistency when they dabble in so many different styles, but Pray for Brain gladly accepts this challenge and succeeds. They tie together a number of influences while keeping the music entirely their own. None of the Above is a diverse and unpredictable journey worth experiencing.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.