Californian punk rock quintet Zebrahead have been a part of the scene for nearly twenty-five years now, witnessing multiple peaks and deviations of the genre. The group’s thirteenth release ‘Brain Invaders’ sees the group touch upon multiple facets of the genre, and serves as a reminder of its appeal at its early 2000s peak.
Opening up the record is ‘When Both Sides Suck, We All Win’, a track that sees guitarists Dan Palmer and Matty Lewis invoke thrash influenced riffs alongside Ali Tabatabaee‘s intense rapping. In danger of veering into nu-metal territory as the pre-chorus chugging takes over, Lewis‘ upbeat vocal refrain and Palmer‘s octave runs bring the group back to its roots.
As the record progresses through streamlined and catchy takes on pop-punk, it runs the risk of losing momentum. As we reach the second act of the record, brass leads and ska-tinged chords bring a new element to proceedings.
‘You Don’t Know Anything About Me’ and ‘Chasing The Sun’ sit back-to-back, harnessing the brass sections to breathe new life into the record. The tracks don’t rely on the novelty and are soon dispensing dual vocals, wah heavy solos, and distorted bass lines courtesy of Ben Osmundson, who uses the tracks to demonstrate his strong and varied playing style.
‘Up In Smoke’ plays with a pumping bass line and an inspired use of whistling to bring a bouncing energy to a laid back track. The energy is held up by drummer Ed Udhus who adds subtle variations to a reggae beat before providing a heavy backbone to the galloping guitars in ‘Ichi, Ni, San, Shi’.
Nearing the end of the record, ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ provides an experimental boost with an array of stabbing samples, drum and bass beats, and tight vocal harmonies. As the track reaches the bridge bass heavy drum patterns and dubstep flourishes add a natural sonic change.
Granted ‘Brain Invaders’ doesn’t break new ground, and upon first listen it’s easy to dismiss as a by-the-numbers pop-punk record, but with strong melodies, bouncing energy, and a wide range of techniques on display, the record can sit comfortably at a house party or at a live venue.