ith the release of their delayed sophomore LP Empty Set, Charlotte punks Brain F≠ sound ready for a breakout year. It’s too bad they may no longer exist.

Soon after releasing their underground-hit debut Sleep Rough in 2011, the members of Brain F≠ scattered: Singer and guitarist Nick Goode focused instead on the similarly anxious Joint D≠ and the more straightforward pummel of Meat Group. Drummer Bobby Michaud moved to Raleigh and joined Double Negative before ending up in Atlanta, drumming for noise-rockers Wymyns Prysyn. Bassist Eddie Schneider retreated to Western North Carolina, and singer Elise Anderson eventually relocated to Florida.

But Brain F≠ never technically broke up. They’re even scheduled to play Winston-Salem’s Phuzz Phest in April. Still, with its members separated by hours and other projects, they’ve shrunk from view. It didn’t help that Empty Set, recorded in 2012 but beset by test pressing and cover art woes, arrived a year after it was promised.

Now that it’s here, Empty Set is nothing like a swan song or fadeout. These songs are bolder and sharper than their predecessors, having gained accessibility without losing their cacophony. Michaud drives the songs with cyclonic force. Schneider’s bass lays foundations beneath the riffs and lends definition to Goode’s frantic strumming, trebly tone and heavy distortion.

But the focal point remains the vocal interplay between Goode and Anderson: The singers bound between sentence-finishing antiphony and competing melodies that have been carefully overlaid. During “Sailor Swim,” both sing the chorus, “You can sail but you can’t swim/You don’t work you just fit in,” but in markedly different melodic patterns. The effect is thrilling and disorienting. That tension once defined Brain F≠, but Andersontaking more solo turns here, and elevated in the mixgains purchase as lead singer on Empty Set. Her deadpan delivery charms, earning comparisons to dry, snarky singers like Protomartyr’s Joe Casey. Her increased responsibility and range here suggests some of Kathleen Hanna’s Bikini Kill volatility, too.

That shift encourages genre-bending. The sub-minute “Headaches and Vomit” is the band’s most traditionally hardcore song, but distorted guitar jitters push the momentum aheadand the tune out of that primeval zone. The title track’s woozy opening gives way to a concise hook”Stop being so damn bored,” repeated like a slogan.

If Empty Set proves to be the last word from Brain F≠, they can say with certainty that they bowed out at their peak

Label: Sorry State Records

This article appeared in print with the headline “Installations and end points.”