Brian Jonestown Massacre releases the scariest batch of love songs since Charlie went down. And it is beautiful.
There are a lot of old school bands out there who get a lot of shit for trying to update their sound; for trying to be “relevant” in this new millennium. The Stones come to mind. Though they are hardly trying to break new boundaries, they do hook up with the hippest producers and Mick even records with Hot New Names from time to time (think Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz).
But what about a band who skips entire decades only to bring both the height and the demise of the American Century together on one horrifying release of macabre beauty? What about the Brian Jonestown Massacre? This is a band that’s made a career based on sounds from 1967. They take their name from the greatest icon of that most referenced year. With their new release, BJM not only leaves 1967 behind (well, not really, but more than on any previous release), they jump right into the year 1997 A.D.
Yes, a lot of the jangle of Strung Out in Heaven is still there and there are plenty of nods to the Stones’ acoustic psychedelia throughout, but there are also electronic blips and wheezes that bring to mind the late 90s hybridization of rock and trance. Big synth sounds mixed over drum loops that make you want to down some E and feel up chicks in the Chill Out Room. What’s it all coming to?
Fear not, BJM’s leader (and only permanent member) Anton Newcombe still has his groove. He still has that touch of evil that seems to color all of BJM’s music and it is the unifying thread between the variety of styles found on …And This Is Our Music. It’s in the chord changes and slightly out of tune drone of Anton’s voice. It’s in the production and arrangement of the instruments that are clear and crafty yet not quite present. They’re there and they’re not. It’s a quality that’s hard to define but is evident on every BJM release. It is Anton’s black magic.
Romance drives us all to madness eventually. The push and pull of love strains our minds and sensibilities so far that we are overcome. They don’t call it Love Sick for nothing. Anton is a saucy bastard. His onstage antics are legendary and being his love interest must be truly maddening. Love affairs happen in bits and pieces though. There are first dates and first arguments and make-up sex and anniversaries and break-ups. And there are those late nights spent on the phone quietly whispering to each other just before you fall asleep. Opening and closing with phone messages—one distressed, vulgar and angry; the second sappy and wispy—…And This is Our Music plays out like one of those romances complete with slightly faded memories in the form of song snippets and incomplete musical diversions.
The first actual song, “Starcleaner” opens with drum machine drone and spooky organ not so removed from Love and Rockets or early Spaceman 3. It’s a bit strange to hear what sounds like electronic drums on a release from a band so entrenched in authenticity, but it’s classic BJM. Bemoaning “the greatest love we can find” Anton sulks about and assures us that this unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship we have is the best we’ll ever do.
Several tracks even remind us the early days of our relationship. “When Jokes Attack” and “Here it Comes” could easily sit on Strung Out In Heaven with fuzz guitar and tambourine shakes. I can even picture the big titted hotty Anton brought along on tour two years ago shaking her ass. Oh, to live like we’re all Brian Jones…
Speaking of drugs, “You Look Great When I’m Fucked Up” is probably BJM’s most musically interesting piece yet. Singing saw, horns, piano, synth…it’s all there and it all works. Sounding like the opening track to a movie about the Manson Murders done right, the song stumbles along with dark overtones and Squeaky Fromme chorus singers. It’s a creep out of supreme doing.
What? Not enough drugs? How about the reprise to “Prozac Vs. Heroin” and Anton’s first real delving into electronica? The Orb might want to contact their lawyers and see if our boy has nicked their gear. It’s trippy and spacey and sure to end up on a hundred trance mixes next year. That is, if any of those weird trance kids even find this album.
By far my favorite track is the instrumental “Some Things Go Without Saying,” which is an easy feeling goldenrod acoustic number. Similar in a way to the instrument track of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” the song is so rich in wood smoke we could just break out some smores and pop a Bud and let the cold early winter night settle in. What’s another day off from work?
Another stand-out is the forlorn “Tschusse” that somehow successfully mixes the melody of the “Odd Couple” theme with the sickening sadness of Neil Young’s take on “Oh, Lonesome Me.” Believe me, I know how ridiculous that seems, but it is the honest to God truth and is number two on my list of favorite BJM tracks from this album.
…And This is Our Music is BJM’s longest love letter with 17 tracks and it’s also their most complex. Anton’s words are getting harsher and his voice is actually getting softer. He’s perfecting the art of tension like a great film director. The scariest moments in a horror flick are not the screaming but when the music cuts out and your waiting for the knife to fall. Anton Newcombe has harnessed that quiet tension in music and delivered it to his cult of weirdo fans.
Like all BJM releases, …And This Is Our Music comes emblazoned with the statement “Paid For By: The Committee to Keep Music Evil.” Here’s to ensuring that committee’s work receives the recognition such a fine organization deserves.
You can download free mp3s of every song the Brian Jonestown Massacre has released, including early, incomplete sketches of …And This Is Our Music, from their official site. But you can buy the real thing from Amazon, cheap.