A few weeks after notice of long-quiet Charlotte punk band Brain F≠'s April 4 set at The Milestone was posted to Facebook, Brain F≠'s singer Elise Anderson posed the following question: "is this real," she conjectured, the lack of punctuation suggesting this might all be a joke.
It's an appropriate question. Despite the recent release of Empty Set, Brain F≠'s excellent sophomore full-length, rumors swirled about the band's demise. The band hadn't played since July 2012, and when the release of Empty Set was announced in January, there were no live dates scheduled to support it. Half of the band didn't even live in North Carolina anymore. Most reviews of Empty Set — including this own paper's — effusively praised its nervy power, but wondered if the record was anything more than a swan song, a posthumous document for a now-defunct band.
But guitarist Nick Goode says the band never called it quits. "I like to not break bands up," he says on the outdoor patio space of The Milestone. "I just like to let them hang out for a little while if you can't play. That was it. Logistically, it was just impossible to be very active. And the record took forever to come out just because it wasn't a priority for anybody, really."
Three years ago, Brain F≠ built a healthy buzz on its debut LP, Sleep Rough. Almost immediately after its release, the band began writing and recording Empty Set. But while the record was finished by summer 2012, poor mixes and cover art squabbles delayed its release for more than a year and a half.
In the meantime, Brain F≠'s members dispersed — drummer Bobby Michaud moved to Raleigh, then Atlanta; Anderson left for New York before settling in Tampa, Fla. — and took on other projects. Goode formed anxious punk act Joint D≠; Michaud joined noise-rockers Wymyns Prysyn.
In a strange way, bassist Eddie Schneider says, the break saved Brain F≠ from oversaturating its hometown, over-playing and wearing down Empty Set's songs before the record was released.
"Now that's it's come out, it's like, 'Oh, we can play shows,'" Goode adds. "We probably would have last year if the record had come out, but now it's an incentive to get off our asses. And before, that kind of wasn't the deal."
"All of a sudden, people kept on asking me, 'You have a record coming out?'" Schneider says. "And I was like, 'I guess so.' It was kind of nice, in a pretty inactive year, to have a record come out of nowhere that I did two years ago."
The distance and delays didn't diminish Brain F≠, either. On the contrary, they energized the band. Empty Set is a taut, 19-minute blur of naked aggression. Goode's restlessly thrashing power chords clash against Anderson's dry, snide sing-speak. Schneider's stout basslines buttress Michaud's wild drumming. It's burlier, brainier, brasher and better that its predecessor, gaining in accessibility without sacrificing the band's signature cacophony.
In that regard, the release of Empty Set — and the return, if brief, of Brain F≠ — is far from a swan song. It's a victory lap.
"It's cool that it's two years old but it doesn't really feel like it," Goode says. "I don't feel separated from it, really."
Brain F≠'s members are still spread out, and still immersed in other projects. After three scheduled April shows in April, Brain F≠ goes quiet again.
Schneider insists the band will play more after this three-date stretch, and infers it might even make new music.
"We'll take what comes," Goode deadpans. "We'll see what happens."
"I'm just glad that we still do it," Schneider adds, "because there was a pretty good chance that this could have just fallen apart. And it didn't."