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Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: My Bloody Underground


1) Bring Me The Head Of Paul McCartney On Heather Mill's Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs On The White House); 2) Infinite Wisdom Tooth / My Last Night In Bed With You; 3) Who's Fucking Pissed In My Well?; 4) We Are The Niggers Of The World; 5) Who Cares Why; 6) Yeah Yeah; 7) Golden Frost; 8) Just Like Kicking Jesus; 9) Ljósmyndir; 10) Auto-Matic-Faggot For The People; 11) Dark-Wave-Driver / Big Drill Car; 12) Monkey Powder; 13) Black Hole Symphony.

Finally, a significant detour — it took almost five years to complete it, but this is probably the most major stylistic shift for Newcombe ever since he'd abandoned shoegaze and contemporary dance rhythms in favor of recreating the hypothetical mindset of post-pool era Brian Jones. The album title itself is indicative of the change: My Bloody Valentine were a larger influence on the BJM circa Methodrone rather than in the past decade, and The Velvet Underground were always a huge influence, but more formally than substantially — «drone» being a major link and all, yet up to now Newcombe had largely bypassed the Velvets' penchant for reckless, abrazive experi­mentation, «ugliness», and «nastiness».

Time for rethinking that abstinence. For years now, Newcombe has had his own record label, titled The Committee To Keep Music Evil, and yet neither of his previous two albums seemed like they were perfectly in touch with that name. Now, armed with some particularly hard drugs and additional stipulations (like no talking whatsoever in the studio), Newcombe seems bent on finally bringing his music in line with that name — or at least, the song titles, the first one of which alone could have earned him a wanted poster from millions of Beatle fans, had he at least a one thousandth share of recognition of Heather Mills' husband. Not that the song title has any­thing to do with the song's lyrics or the song's music — it's just a gratuitous swipe, you know, to keep the music evil.

Of course, the basic BJM principles have not really changed. The main modus operandi remains as simple as it used to be: one midtempo musical idea per song, looped and whipped mercilessly unto self-extinction. But now the focus is on making these ideas nasty and funky, rather than limp and somnambulant. Suddenly the junkie flips a switch, and his vibes are no longer wasted and dis­sipated somewhere in outer space, but sharpened, poisoned, and directed right at you. This still does not excuse the album's awful length (almost 80 minutes in total), but somehow it makes it easier to sit through it without swallowing your tongue or locking your eyelids than through quite a few of BJM's much shorter records.

The «meat» of the album lies in its dark, distorted, grumbly, repetitive epics: ʽWho Cares Whyʼ, ʽAuto-Matic-Faggot For The Peopleʼ (oh, that title), ʽDark Wave Driverʼ, and especially ʽMon­key Powderʼ with its particularly eerie rising-and-falling bass groove. If you think they sound like a cross between classic Hawkwind and classic Sonic Youth, you are most likely right: and unlike either of these bands, Newcombe is perfectly willing to disallow even minor bits of variation as the groove grooves along, what with his well-known aversion to «musical development» within any given musical track. Yet somehow, this «dark ambience» seems more tolerable and even more sensible than the «limp ambience» of past albums — maybe because of the relative fresh­ness of the approach, or maybe because the deep bass riffs of the grooves make deeper impres­sions and make you feel like you're walking along a treacherous, creepy, but vaguely exciting path, rather than just making your way through an endless irritating field of hemp.

Naturally, even this does not last forever: the album has its fair share of obvious missteps, such as the solo piano piece ʽWe Are The Niggers Of The Worldʼ, whose fairly strong title should at least suggest depths of sorrow or heights of anger — instead, it sounds like somebody trying to ape one of Keith Jarrett's improvisation styles (and not doing a complete suckjob, actually, but some­thing tells me this piece was far from improvised, which makes all the difference). And while the concluding piece, ʽBlack Hole Symphonyʼ, shows that Newcombe has progressed far enough in his mastery of electronics to be able to produce at least one awesome sonic loop that does remind you of black holes, looping it for ten minutes really means that he is aware that you can shut it off any second. And the funniest thing is, regardless of the outcome, Newcombe wins — if you shut it off prematurely, he has manipulated you into getting angry, and if you do not, he has manipu­lated you into getting stupid.

But I am still closing my eyes on this and giving the album a thumbs up, if only for one of the most genuinely weird tracks produced in the decade — by accident, no doubt, yet even so ʽLjós­myndirʼ (ʽPhotographsʼ in Icelandic) is as simple as it is baffling: a minimalistic soundscape of cold ambient synthesizers, over which are scattered echoey pieces of Icelandic babble. It does look silly on paper, yet for some reason I find it strangely more enchanting than your average BJM limp-groove, and if it is some sort of Newcombe-tribute to the magic island that gave us Björk, Sigur Rós, and Eyjafjallajökull, the man has captured its essence in one stroke. Which only makes it so much more frustrating to realize how much of that natural talent he has wasted over intellectual conceptualization and, let us be frank, conceptual castration of his ideas. Yes, the man got talent to burn — but then most of it gets burned over drugs or over intentional creative lazi­ness that gets presented as the next step in artistic vision. Go figure.


  1. You're more generous to this album than I am: I see it as an early attempt at something the band does better on "Aufheben" and "Revelation."
    The deliberately offensive song titles that do not connect to the music or lyrics just seem lazy to me. They're "evil" only in the sense that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins.

  2. It took a while for me differentiate between the various BJM albums and phases, but now this one stands out to me as quintessential. Maybe not the best (I couldn't gauge that) but the clearest testament to his impulsive, drug-addled, dumbshit musical genius.

    Also, I think it's misguided to confuse his haphazardness with laziness or sloth. I think he's probably learned that polishing up raw ideas produces diminishing returns, at least for him. Would it really improve Ljósmyndir if he went back and fixed all those fingering blunders? What if he gave the tracks nicer names? Would Madcap Laughs be a better album if all the songs got the "Octopus Ride" treatment? Maybe a better question is, Would "Octopus Ride" be a better song if it was left as unrefined as the others?

    Anton at his best seems to be a leave-it-and-move-on kind of musician.