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Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?


1) Tempo 116.7 (Reaching For Dangerous Levels Of Sobriety); 2) Þungur Hnífur; 3) Let's Go Fucking Mental; 4) White Music; 5) This Is The First Of Your Last Warnings; 6) This Is The One Thing We Did Not Want To Have Happen; 7) The One; 8) Someplace Else Unknown; 9) Detka! Detka! Detka!; 10) Super Fucked; 11) Our Time; 12) Feel It (Of Course We Fucking Do); 13) Felt Tipped-Pen Pictures Of UFOs.

Judging by the album cover, one might conclude that it was either Jesus who killed Sgt. Pepper, perhaps in retaliation for John Lennon's blasphemy, or, even more shockingly, that Jesus was Sgt. Pepper, in which case lines like "Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play" would take on a whole new light — in fact, the whole Sgt. Pepper would be actually a concept album about the life of Jesus, who'd love to turn you on with a little help from his friends (St. Peter, St. James, etc.), especially since it's getting better all the time, and she's leaving home to meet a man from the motor trade (shouldn't that be carpenter trade?), and ʽWhen I'm Sixty Fourʼ is, of course, about The Last Temptation Of Christ, and...

...sorry, well, at least that's one fine direction of thought that came from this BJM album without me hearing even one note of it. However, I am sad to say that this direction of thought has no­thing whatsoever to do with the album itself — which, incidentally, happens to be the weirdest offering from Newcombe in almost twenty years, and even if it rarely works on gut level (you'd have to have your guts made out of nylon for that), the very fact of its existence is somewhat of a consolation, since psychedelic musical surprises come so rarely these days.

We will proceed from the basic assumption that this album is total crap, which will make things easier for us. As usual, Newcombe dispenses his ideas with extreme frugality — hardly more than one per track — and, as usual, the album runs over seventy minutes. As usual, he appropriates and assimilates rather than invents. And he seems to have almost completely finalized the shift from «song-based» to «jam-based» music: the absolute majority of these tracks are just vamps, and if there are any words, they are repetitive mantras (as in, "let's go fuckin' mental, let's go fu­ckin' mental, la la la la, la la la la...") rather than verse-chorus constructions. And it probably took half an hour to figure out most of the album's melodic moves.

But the album lives, further expanding and polishing the new style of My Bloody Underground, now with twenty percent extra black venom as deep-cutting bass lines, metalic fuzz, and hard-whacking drum machines completely take over and turn the album into an endless journey through a series of harmless, but intimidating musical black holes. The band that once epitomized sonic narcolepsy has truly awoken — or, rather, entered a period of hyperactivity while still in a somnambulant state, like a narcoleptic on heavy amphetamines. And I find myself as puzzled as anybody, but much of the time it works.

The main part of the ride begins with the second track (the one with the Icelandic title), which is the closest Anton ever got to reproducing the classic Hawkwind vibe — a dark, brutal psycho-boogie with all sorts of astral effects, cymbal-heavy percussion, and an ugly nasal-vocal accom­paniment that we could all do without. ʽLet's Go Fucking Mentalʼ is designed as some sort of a trippy carousel ride around a dirty-sounding R'n'B guitar-and-harmonica groove with a nasty, not-give-a-damn attitude, rather than any intentions of having a good time, to it. ʽThis Is The First...ʼ has probably the best bass line on the album, emphasized with foamy-bubbly electronic effects and ridiculously pseudo-passionate Icelandic vocals, all the while chugging along at a relatively fast, very much danceable tempo — post-disco meets post-rock, or at least catches a brief envy­ing glimpse of it from a distance.

The real attraction of the record, though, is that it actually gets weirder and weirder as time goes by. ʽThis Is The One Thingʼ is a collage of two Joy Division songs (the "we were strangers" cho­rus from ʽI Remember Nothingʼ and the rhythm section of ʽShe's Lost Controlʼ), with additional lyrics and guitar grooves from Anton himself — the resulting atmosphere is nothing like the intimate bleakness of Joy Division, but it borrows nicely from that bleakness to add to the general «self-induced angry madness» of the album. Joy Division influence blips one more time later, on ʽSomeplace Else Unknownʼ (whose vocal melody and lyrics borrow from ʽInterzoneʼ), but the peak of the weirdness is reached on ʽDetka! Detka!ʼ (ʽBaby, Babyʼ) — an odd ska groove here with the entire song delivered in Russian, apparently by some guy from the completely unknown Russian band «Amazing Electronic Talking Cave». Absolutely no idea how they got in touch with Newcombe or why he thought that a little bit of Russian rock infusion would be a meaning­ful addition to his legacy, but there it is — for the record, the repetitive bridge section literally translates from Russian as "I will love you only after I die", which is a very Russian thing to mention in the context of a pop song, but few will ever know about that... and now you're one of those happy few who do know.

The final track here is neither a song nor even a groove — it is a simple ambient piece with just one soothing keyboard phrase, over which Newcombe first overdubs John Lennon's famous in­terview in which he apologizes for the "Beatles are bigger than Jesus" thing, and then some Bri­tish girl's lengthy, raving, and frantic denouncement of Lennon as a phony. This is, the way I gather, not so much a musical piece as another one of Newcombe's naughty keep-music-evil statements — as much as he clearly loves the Beatles (and who doesn't?), he finds it his duty to treat them as at least whippable, if not slayable, sacred cows, because, you know, otherwise he'll look like a fanboy rather than a respectable artist, and what will remain of The Brian Jonestown Massacre if they stop looking like respectable artists? Just monotonous grooves without a cause. The Committee To Keep Music Evil cannot allow that. Besides, if there is one single track on this album that can really drop you a clue as to who actually killed Sgt. Pepper, it is surely this one.

Despite some of these rather easily disclosed and predictable moves, on the whole I think that the album deserves its thumbs up — I mean, it nurtures and develops the curious direction of My Bloody Underground with extra care, so how could it be different? Maybe it is not half as «evil» as it positions itself to be, but that is still twice as «evil» as, say, your average cartoonish death metal album or whatever else passes for «evil» these days. Driven by a general unified purpose, monotonous in structure, but diverse and unpredictable in ideas, and, above all, kicking some ass in terms of sheer execution — that is at least something that should be encouraged, so let us be forgiving in details and encouraging on the general scale.

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