Brian Jonestown Massacre


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Methodrone, 7.5/10
Take It From The Man, 6.5/10
Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request, 6.5/10
Thank God For Mental Illness, 7/10
Give It Back, 6/10
Strung Out In Heaven, 6.5/10
Bringing It All Back Home Again , 7/10 (EP)
Bravery Repetition and Noise , 6.5/10
And This is Our Music (2003), 6/10
My Bloody Underground (2008), 6/10
Who Killed Sgt Pepper (2010), 4.5/10
Aufheben (2012), 5/10
Links:

Both the hippies' philosophy and sound reincarnated in a bizarre San Francisco project, Anton Newcombe's Brian Jonestown Massacre. Despite the clumsy recording quality and the amateurish stance, Methodrone (1995) and Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request (1996) were monumental encyclopedias of psychedelic music, from the Jefferson Airplane to Hawkwind, from the Rolling Stones to the Velvet Underground. Subsequent albums alternated between superbly derivative, such as Take It From The Man (1996) and Give It Back (1997), majestically musical, such as Thank God For Mental Illness (1996), arranged with a wealth of instruments, and dreamy/melancholy, such as Strung Out In Heaven (1998). Newcombe mostly followed in the footsteps of deranged street folksingers like David Peel, but his naif folly could also explode in noise collages.
Anton Newcombe is a late anarchic hippie, born in Los Angeles but relocated to San Francisco in 1989, whose brain is drenched in the psychedelic music of the 1960s, and in particular in the sound of the British invasion. He formed the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 1990, recruiting Dean Taylor and Jeff Davies on guitars, Joel Gion on maracas, and dedicating the group to the tragically departed Rolling Stones member. During the next ten years, about fifty musicians will take shifts in the BJM commune.

The project debuted with a batch of singles, Evergreen/ She Made Me (Tangible, 1993), Convertable (Tangible, 1993), Acid (Tangible, 1994), Hide And Seek (Tangible, 1995), which harked back to the oblique melodies of Donovan and Syd Barrett, and to the early raw singles of their idols Stones. The six-single box-set The Tangible Box (Tangible, 1994) became a cult item, even though it proves, more than anything else, the poor instrumental skills of the ensemble, whimsically in love with anything that produces sounds, whether synthesizers or flutes.

Continuing that trend, Methodrone (Bomp, 1995) is a monumental encyclopedia (72 minutes) of psychedelic sounds. Despite Newcombe's emphasis on melody and guitar, most of the time it is the rhythmic element that is the real killer. A thick, sustained bass and guitar riff supports the ethereal male and female vocal duet of Evergreen. Wisdom soars with the epic and loose space-rock jamming a` la Jefferson Airplane and Hawkwind. That Girl Suicide carves a groove halfway between the Rolling Stones' Jumping Jack Flash and the Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat. Pow-wow drumming propels the gentle melody of Everyone Says. The grand finale of She's Gone intones the ultimate hippie hymn, a crazy, ecstatic and relaxed celebration of life.
The ten-minute jam Hyperventilation is the least derivative of these acid rituals. It borrows a devastating distortion from the book of the Stooges, but in the context of a subdued shaman-like exorcism that is interrupted by sudden explosions a` la Careful With That Axe. Crushed is a six-minute inferno in the style of Velvet Underground's Venus In Furs.
When the rhythm abates, Newcombe is less successful at animating his music, as the trancey Wasted and I Love You prove. On the other hand, the dilated and distorted End Of The Day and the instrumental vortex of Outback show that he would be equally successful at crafting apocalyptic textures that basically have no rhythm at all.
Whether because of ineptitude or design, the BJM differ from other psychedelic revival groups in that their approach is rather amateurish, awkward and chaotic, closer to the ethos of the punks than to the pathos of the hippies. The resulting music is surprisingly fresh, original, and universal.

The subsequent EP, Spacegirl And Other Favorites (Candy Floss, 1995), is even more opulent in terms of drones and litanies. A prolific group like few can be found, the BJM record the singles Feelers (Tangible, 1996), Never Ever (Stanton Park, 1996) e Colt To The Touch/ Anemone (Candy Floss, 1996) before releasing two more albums, Take It From The Man (Bomp, 1996) and Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request (Bomp, 1996), which is almost entirely played by Newcombe alone.

Take It From The Man (Bomp, 1996), explicitly dedicated to the memory of Brian Jones ("murdered" by the other Rolling Stones), is essentially a post-modernist essay on quoting classic British bands of the late 1960s. A lot more instruments are employed (ten kinds of guitar, seven kinds of keyboards) and they are played by a new quintet. The rhythm section is approximate at best in imitating the Stones' Wyman and Watts, but the solemn Vacuum Boots (a sort of Wish You Were Here for real friends), the martial Who (one of their most romantic psychedelic trips), and the glorious retro-jam of Straight Up And Down (reprised in an eleven-minute version/medley at the end of the CD).
However, the album is mainly a parade of quotations from the history of rock music: Monkey Puzzle (a visceral BB King-ian rhythm and blues over a Bo Diddley-ian boogie); Take It From The Man (an Animals-style blues); Caress (a Them-style rave-up); Mary Please (a variation on Jimi Hendrix' Hey Joe); Since I Was Six (an accordion-led litany that mirrors David Bowie's Space Oddity); My Man Syd (guess...). Matt Hollywood contributes the Farfisa-led garage-rock of Oh Lord and the seven-minute acid-fest Cabin Fever.

Anton Newcombe e` un tardo hippie anarcoide, nato a Los Angeles ma trasferitosi a San Francisco nel 1989, invasato di musica psichedelica degli anni '60 e in particolare di gruppi Britannici di quell'epoca. Forma i Brian Jonestown Massacre nel 1990, con Dean Taylor e Jeff Davies alle chitarre, Joel Gion alle maracas, intitolando il gruppo al membro dei Rolling Stones tragicamente scomparso. Nell'arco di dieci anni circa quaranta musicisti si alterneranno nella comune dei BJM.

Il gruppo si mette in luce con una serie di singoli, Evergreen/ She Made Me (Tangible, 1993), Convertable (Tangible, 1993), Acid (Tangible, 1994), Hide And Seek (Tangible, 1995), che fanno pensare soprattutto alle melodie oblique di Donovan e Syd Barrett, e ai primi rozzi singoli dei loro idoli Stones. Il confanetto di sei singoli, The Tangible Box (Tangible, 1994), diventa un oggetto di culto, anche se dimostra piu` che altro l'imperizia strumentale del gruppo, capricciosamente invaghito di tutto cio` che produce suoni, dai sintetizzatori ai flauti.

Methodrone (Bomp, 1995) e` un'enciclopedia monumentale (72 minuti) di suoni psichedelici. Ma, forse piu` per inettitudine che per volonta`, i BJM si differenziano dagli altri gruppi del revival psichedelico in quanto il loro approccio non e` oleografico bensi` aprrossimativo, sgraziato e disordinato come comanda l'ethos dei punk.

Il successivo EP Spacegirl And Other Favorites (Candy Floss, 1995) e` ancor piu` opulento in termini di droni e di litanie. Gruppo dispersivo come pochi, i BJM incidono i singoli Feelers (Tangible, 1996), Never Ever (Stanton Park, 1996) e Colt To The Touch/ Anemone (Candy Floss, 1996) prima di pubblicare altri due album, Take It From The Man (Bomp, 1996), un saggio di citazione dei classici britannici della fine degli anni '60, e Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request (Bomp, 1996), registrato quasi interamente (73 minuti) dal solo Newcombe.

Thank God For Mental Illness (Bomp, 1996), third album of the year, was recorded in just one day at their San Francisco residence. While the band still did not feature a stable drummer, the album is played with a wealth of instruments. The spirit of the music is clearly that of the early 1960s, the age of peace-and-love folksingers and garage-rock. The dejected blues Spanish Bee rings with the angst of Rolling Stones' Play With Fire, augmented with spanish guitar and church organ. 13 undulates with a riff taken from Rolling Stones' The Last Time and a tone taken from Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. Free And Easy mixes gospel hymn, country music and hare-krishna dancing. Ballad Of Jim Jones is an epic, yodeling psalm reminiscent of Apalachian folksingers. And Those Memories is a choral singalong in the vein of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. Newcombe follows in the footsteps of deranged street folksingers like David Peel, but his purpose is purely artistic. He has no solemn message for the world. He has a vision, a hazy vision of people, things and events that matter to him.
Newcombe is more than just an inspired revisionist of the 1960s. The suspenseful lullaby It Girl, propelled (like most songs here) by rhythm guitar and tambourine, has the dark edge of a Stan Ridgway parable. The tender trance of Down floats in a raga space with the gloom of a requiem. Newcombe's naif folly explodes in the concrete collage of the 32-minute suite Sound Of Confusion (six and a half of them spent "playing" the noises of driving a car).

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Con il sesto album, Give It Back (Bomp, 1997), il pellegrinaggio sonoro di Newcombe ha raggiunto la maturita`. Super-Sonic, un misto di cerimoniale orientale e di giostra psichedelica, Le "tracopiature" sono quasi fotostatiche: Satellite e` dei Pretty Things cosi` come This Is Why You Love Me e` Feel A Whole Lot Better dei Byrds; Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth cita Loose degli Stooges con un ritornello da Merseybeat, mentre Malela e` una filastrocca di strada degna di David Peel in cui balena ogni tanto il riff di Paint It Black dei Rolling Stones. Molti brani sono costruiti su trucchi elementari: la jam quasi interamente strumentale di Sue (otto minuti) e` un lento e ipnotico flusso di accordi a ritmo marziale, coronato da un crescendo apocalittico; l'altra jam quasi strumentale di #1 Hit Jam e` un sornione blues-rock con armonica e organo. E` discutibile soltanto se questo far musica copiando i classici e affastellando stereotipi sia ancora musica o soltanto un patetico atto di feticismo.

L'album esce sull'onda della fama negativa che il gruppo si guadagna con una serie di turbolenti concerti, al termine dei quali Newcombe (responsabile di quasi tutti i problemi) perde quasi tutti i compagni.

La musica di Strung Out In Heaven (TVT, 1998) e` pero` tutto l'opposto di cio` che uno si aspetta da una simile banda di scapestrati, e da un simile leader psicotico. Newcombe sembra molto piu` interessato a rievocare il lato gentile del flower-power che non il lato selvaggio del garage-rock. La raccolta (o, meglio, carrellata) e` piu` che mai un tributo ai suoi idoli: Going To Hell e` una versione piu` melodica degli Them di Gloria e piu` viscerale del Dylan di Like A Rollingstone; Wasting Away intona il malinconico passo del Neil Young di Harvest; Jennifer imbraccia il sognante jingle jangle dei Byrds; Got My Eye On You incalza con il boogie ipnotico dei Velvet Underground (e con tanto di piano dissonante); Let's Pretend riecheggia la psichedelia classicheggiante a passo di marcia degli Association.
Il resto del disco e` pero` insolitamente pensoso: la ballad melodrammatica di I've Been Waiting, il crescendo psichedelico di Love (con tanto di organo trascendente), gli eccessi pop e soul di Spun, e lo stesso finale solenne di Wisdom, presentano un Newcombe alle prese con i suoi fantasmi interiori, in stato confessionale e confusionale.
Su tutto troneggia il ritratto dei Rolling Stones. L'esecuzione e` impeccabile. La passione e` genuina. Manca forse soltanto un guizzo di genio.

L'EP Bringing It All Back Home Again (Which, 1999) lambisce toni demenziali e invasati. The Way It Was , Mansion In The Sky , Reign On e All Things Great And Small contengono riferimenti religiosi a fianco alle sue solite grottesche imitazioni. The Godspell According To A.A. Newcombe sconfina nella megalomania da serial killer, e Arkansas Revisited (13 minuti) e` accreditata a lui e al folle criminale Charles Manson... Musicalmente, e` forse il suo piu` diretto omaggio ai Rolling Stones.

Newcombe's obsession with Syd Barrett may have outdone its time, but how can anyone criticize him when he sculpts a majestic serenade like If I Love You (church organ, apocalyptic guitar distortion, exotic-sounding melody), the ultimate Madcap Laugh leftover, or the darker and menacing groove of Let Me Stand Next to Your Flower? Bravery Repetition and Noise (Bomp, 2002) is not an album full of experiments, but it delivers some of the most tender and noble psychedelic folk this side of the English master. The gentle and poppy sound of Strung Out In Heaven is still pervasive, in fact it is mutating into an obsessive craft, especially when coupled with the pensive, autumnal tone that has taken over his original hippie exuberance. Opening track Just For Today indulges in the atmospheric noir of dark-punk (Cure, Bauhaus) adding, for good measure, a touch of pompous electronic keyboards a` la Moody Blues. The sullen Open Heart Surgery borrows the melody from Neil Young's Ohio and its instrumental break unleashes an ominous guitar twang. The oscar for most creative idea of the album may go to the dancing, tinkling music-box tune that weaves itself into the droning trance of You Have Been Disconnected.
Newcombe has calmed down a lot: frequently, as typified by Telegram, the guitar strums as in a slower, calmer version of 13th Floor Elevator accompanied by march-like drumming and sustains a simple, catchy refrain (with an ethereal bridge that Paul McCartney would die for). Leave Nothing For Sancho is a mediterranean/celtic dirge, a suave melody carried by the syncopated steps of a guitar and a mandolin. The influence of the Byrds surfaces in the spaced-out, jingle-jangling Sailor.
With simple instrumentation and humble delivery, Newcombe can pen the most unlikely ditty and turn it into an emotional mini-epic.

The 17-song juggernaut And This is Our Music (Tee Pee, 2003) introduces drum machine (Starcleaner) and electronics (Prozac Vs Heroin) into Newcombe's arsenal but balances the new with enough of the old (the fuzz-fests When Jokers Attack and Here it Comes, the psycho-ballads Tschusse and Geezers) to still sound classic. The chamber psychedelia You Look Great When I'm Fucked Up and the charming instrumental Some Things Go Without Saying also represent new faces of the ageing but still untamed hippie.

Tepid Peppermint Wonderland (Tee Pee, 2005) is a two-CD career retrospective.

The five-song EP We Are The Radio (Teepee, 2005) was, de facto, a collaboration with vocalist Sarabeth Tuceck, yielding a sound reminiscent of Mazzy Star.

Former Brian Jonestown Massacre's guitarist and vocalist Bobby Hecksher formed the Warlocks in 1998 to resurrect the rawer form of shoegazing. They recorded: The Warlocks (Bomp, 2001), Rise and Fall (Bomp, 2002), with the 14-minute Jam of the Witches, the psychedelic Phoenix (Mute, 2003), with the ten-minute Cosmic Letdown, the ambitious but uneven Surgery (Mute, 2005), the live Red Camera (Bomp, 2006), and the monotonous The Mirror Explodes (2009).

My Bloody Underground (2008) is a chaotic and amateurish collection even by their chaotic and amateurish standards, with We Are The Niggers of the World being the only thing that somehow resembles a "song". Absurd pieces such as Who Cares Why, Automatic Faggot for the People, Just Like Kicking Jesus are particularly puzzling, and Black Hole Symphony is merely indulgent.

Who Killed Sgt Pepper (2010), a venture into dance music, and Aufheben (2012), with German session musicians, were trivial (and probably improvised) efforts, the latter's highlight being the flute-driven instrumental Face Down on the Moon.

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