THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: MUSIQUE DE FILM IMAGINE (2015)
1) Après Le Vin; 2) Philadelphie Story; 3) La Dispute; 4) L'Enfer; 5) Elle S'Echappe; 6) Le Cadeau; 7) Le Sacré Du Printemps; 8) Le Souvenir; 9) Les Trois Cloches; 10) Bonbon; 11) L'Ennui; 12) Bonbon Deux; 13) La Question; 14) Au Sommet.
One thing I have to say about Anton Newcombe: for a guy who largely built his reputation on a series of mind-numbingly repetitive psycho-drones, he sure comes up with the wildest of original ideas every once in a while. Forever and ever, he continues to be inspired with the Sixties — to him, probably representing the peak of the human spirit in the 20th century, or even beyond that (and he's not alone!) — yet he always manages to insert a bit of the 21st century in every tribute to that decade, with a maddening mix of slavish derivativeness and stunning originality.
This record, now, is also all about the Sixties (and a little Fifties), but suddenly he turns his attention away from the Beatles and the Stones and guides it over the English channel, to focus on French filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, for a change: since, apparently, the movies of Godard and Truffaut meant the same to film as the Beatles, Stones, and Velvets meant to music, it was only a matter of time before mad man Newcombe found a way to somehow incorporate that in his creativity. The only thing he forgot to make was a movie — but he did write the soundtrack to it, and he claims to have actually seen the movie in his head, although I doubt that he'd ever be willing to commit it to camera, even if Warner Bros. approaches him with a million dollar deal. (And, let's face it, it would most likely be awful anyway).
Technically, much of the soundtrack sounds fairly traditionally for BJM: slow or, at best, mid-tempo instrumental grooves with lots of sustained notes formed into solemn guitar-based or brass-based melodies. However, most of the important tracks, written in minor keys, wrapped in serious echo, and often adorned by half-sung, quarter-spoken, and quarter-whispered vocals, have a much more romantic and doom-laden feel than Newcombe's previous work, bringing to mind both the recent French shoegazing scene (like Alcest) and, for sure, some of the sonic atmosphere of the old French New Wave — not so much Godard, though, whose movies were much too bizarre and turbulent for this, as somebody like Alain Resnais (Last Year At Marienbad could sure profit from some of these sounds) or even, goodness gracious, Claude Lelouche (some of the atmospheres are right up A Man And A Woman's alley).
To assist him in this uneasy, but intriguing task is a small selection of some authentic French and Italian modern talent — Stéphanie Sokolinski, better known as SoKo (since the combination of French and Slavic elements in that name is much too much for the average person to bear), musical performer and actress with pop-Goth overtones, takes the lead vocal on ʽPhiladelphie Storyʼ (yes, that is the messed-up title, even if the original title of Cukor's movie in the French version was Indiscrétions); and Asia Argento, who also stars in movies and sings on LPs, although I am not sure if I have ever heard or seen anything from her (I know she's supposed to be in 1994's La Reine Margot, but that one was so terrible, I couldn't stand more than twenty minutes)... anyway, Asia Argento is featured on ʽLe Sacre Du Printempsʼ, which, as you have probably already guessed, has nothing whatsoever to do with Stravinsky. Is Stravinsky ever regarded as a forefather of The French New Wave? Not sure, but it's not really up to me to question Anton Newcombe's erudition — he obviously did some homework on this issue and I did not.
In any case, the important thing is that Musique seems to work even outside of all those connections — it is perfectly possible to enjoy it and even to be stimulated by it if you do not know a single thing about old French movies. Most of the grooves make sense. They can be quite minimalistic, almost ambient (ʽBonbonʼ sounds like a digital projection of a meditative glass harmonica solo; ʽL'Ennuiʼ opens and closes with a simple musical box melody, over which a cello, a flute, and a Mellotron play a set of mournful chords), and they can be quite loud and bombastic (ʽL'Enferʼ, presenting a stern, but melancholic rather than terrifying picture of Hell — you know, the kind of Hell where demons keep asking themselves «to be or not to be?» before pouring boiling oil over your head), but they are all united by a sense of being stuck somewhere in limbo, as the old world has already been lost and the new one has not yet been gained — a sense that they do indeed share with some of those old movies.
The two sung tracks are no exception: «SoKo» sings with passion and energy on ʽPhiladelphie Storyʼ, but, true to her artistic persona, it is the passion and energy of a ghoul — "Hallelujah, chantez ma resurrection!" is the epic climax to each verse, upon which you dutifully expect a bite to the neck. And ʽLe Sacré Du Printempsʼ is kind of, like, you know, when they were all gathered to perform The Rite of Spring, but the weather turned out twenty degrees colder than expected, so they just all huddled up in their wintercoats and stayed home instead, staring out the windows and thinking real cold thoughts on the fate of the universe.
So, as you see, for me at least it does work, atmosphere-wise. This is the stiffest, most minimalistic and frozen Brian Jonestown Massacre release yet, more like a Dead Can Dance impersonating Brian Jonestown Massacre impersonating Alain Resnais with a little Antonioni DNA thrown in. It's not that good — the market has been flooded with half-ambient, winterish soundscapes like these for years anyway — but it feels solid and intriguing at least as yet another chapter in the odd journey of Anton Newcombe, which, considering his passion for chemical substances and his usual sloth-like approach to music, should have ended or, at least, transformed into a predictable straight line a long time ago. It does not, however, and for that reason alone I am happy to support the record with a thumbs up and say that in a perfect world, it should have sold more copies than Adele's 25; but then again, in a perfect world like that 80% of the people would rather go watch a re-run of Last Year At Marienbad than the latest episode of Star Wars, and when you think about this real hard, the consequences can be rather scary.