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Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Aufheben


1) Panic In Babylon; 2) Viholliseni Maalla; 3) Gaz Hilarant; 4) Illuminomi; 5) I Want To Hold Your Other Hand; 6) Face Down On The Moon; 7) The Clouds Are Lies; 8) Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe; 9) Seven Kinds Of Wonderful; 10) Waking Up To Hand Grenades; 11) Blue Order / New Monday.

According to Hegelian dialectics, Aufheben («picking up» or «canceling») is the process that takes place when a thesis is confronted with an anti-thesis — presumably followed by synthesis. This either invites a dialectical approach towards understanding this album by The Brian Jones­town Massacre, or it could mean that Anton Newcombe once took a German dictionary off the shelf, opened it on a random page, and let Fate decide to guide him through to a connection with Hegel — because, let's face it, Hegel was a fairly psychedelic guy, despite all the formal-logical trappings. And yes, you guessed it — Hegel could be just as boring as The Brian Jonestown Mas­sacre, and he could be just as proud of it, too.

If I think really, really hard, I could actually lead myself towards understanding Aufheben (the album) as a synthesis of sorts — it is, indeed, a cross between the dark groovery of the band's last two albums and their earlier, softer, limper homage to Sixties' psychedelia. A song like ʽI Want To Hold Your Other Handʼ, for instance, would be totally out of place on My Bloody Under­ground, and even though its association with the Beatles ends with its name (in the time that it takes Anton to get his point across, John Lennon would have had the time to hold your hand, hold your other hand, hold your legs, hold all the other parts of your body, and dump you for Yoko Ono), it does bring us back the old personality of Anton Newcombe, one that we'd almost forgot­ten with all that po-mo weirdness of killing Sgt. Pepper with Russian lyrics.

The album starts out with a couple dark, but not too bass-heavy grooves: ʽPanic In Babylonʼ is set to a cool, steady rock beat with Near Eastern woodwind overtones (a little reminiscent of old Hawkwind experiments in such mergers), and ʽViholliseni Maallaʼ has a Finnish title because the lead vocals are gallantly ceded over to Eliza Karmasalo, who must be Finnish (I suppose) and who lends the track a certain clichéd coldness, while in the background the band is entertaining us with chiming guitar leads, and occasionally a Robert Smith-style melancholic, echoey guitar line will break through the clearing as well and send you on a gloomy trip down memory lane. Both tracks sound fine, but... lightweight — like Air or some of those other atmospheric, psycho-adult-contemporary entertainers that understand beauty, but do not strive for the whole depth of it. But that's okay, we can take it. We have long since given up on the idea that Anton Newcombe could lead us into the promised land anyway.

From there on, we just keep drifting between these steady rock beat grooves and throwbacks to 1966 (sometimes very harsh throwbacks — ʽStairway To The Best Party In The Universeʼ, de­spite the title, steals its sitar riff from the Stones' ʽPaint It Blackʼ rather than from Led Zeppelin... ah crap, I'm getting really tired of jotting down all these combinations), but on the whole, the record does not shoot for the same kind of thoroughly unpredictable weirdness as its predecessor. There are some leisurely, «retro-progressive» (hey, nice word) flute-and-sitar instrumentals like ʽFace Down On The Moonʼ; some pastoral themes with swooping strings to disorient your brain (ʽThe Clouds Are Liesʼ); and some tracks that are seriously messed up with vocal overdubs (ʽSe­ven Kinds Of Wonderfulʼ, where they seem to be singing in French, but it is really hard to tell be­cause the polyphony is so overwhelming).

I like the way it all sounds — even if the weirdness and the heaviness have been toned down, the album only rarely reminds me of the irritating laziness of past BJM «masterpieces», and at least all of the grooves have their legitimate emotional interpretations, if you care enough to wait for them to come to you. But in the process, it kind of seems as if The Committee To Keep Music Evil once again started lagging behind on its primary purpose, and that the momentum gained by Newcombe with his «snarling» approach began to dissipate once more. All the same, I would like to extend a thumbs up to the album — certainly not because of its gimmicky aspects (which are negligible, anyway, compared to Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?), but... well, just because. I think I have the same type of reaction to late 1970s Hawkwind: pleasant, inoffensive, toe-tappy, mildly catchy, mildly mysterious stuff. Goes easy on the ears.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the lack of gimmickry on this album. I think that essentially Anton Newcombe is interested in sound -- far more interested in sound than in words. The audio inserts (phone messages, etc) on earlier albums sound forced to me. Maybe he's mellowed out a bit and decided that its OK to focus on sounds and to stop trying to be self-consciously "evil."