After glancing over the personnel involved in the project known as Giant Brain, expectations were high when pushing "play." Phil Durr (Big Chief) plays guitar; Eric Hoegemeyer (Crud, Gold Cash Gold, Deep See Sound System, Rustbelt Studios) takes drum and percussion duties. And Al Sutton (Rust Belt Studios) is in charge of the loops, programming and keyboards. Al's brother Andy Sutton, however, is the main Brain. It's the bassist's vision here; his extraordinary way of dismantling the very idea of a song and reconstructing it in a manner that only he could have foreseen is exactly makes this band (and I use that word loosely) so exciting.
Giant Brain is largely an instrumental project — "Empyrion" being a very obvious exception — and that's an approach that undeniably works for the group. Thorn of Thrones isn't a conventional rock 'n' roll album by any stretch of the imagination. It's even at least partially inaccurate to define it as "rock 'n' roll. Instead, it serves as the ambient-stoner soundtrack to a yet-to-be filmed (and probably not filmable in the first place) movie that Andy Sutton has flickering in the back of his mind.
So, is this record self-indulgent? You betcha. But its biggest plus is that the musicians behind the project seem to care little about whether anybody likes their music beyond themselves. Still, as was so often the case with Zappa, a little bit of effort heaps great rewards. Like an onion, Thorn of Thrones has a multitude of layers that peel off one by one with every listen. Songs like "Gooser" grow in stature the more you hear them until, by the seventh or eighth spin, they sound simply epic.
This certainly isn't an "instant" record. It features no obvious singles and it will likely receive zero radio play. But it is brave, unique and extremely personal. And in today's homogenized music world, that's very rare indeed.
Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.