Search This Blog

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Third World Pyramid


1) Good Mourning; 2) Government Beard; 3) Don't Get Lost; 4) Assignment Song; 5) Oh Bother; 6) Third World Pyramid; 7) Like Describing Colors To A Blind Man On Acid; 8) Lunar Surf Graveyard; 9) The Sun Ship.

The fourth Brian Jonestown Massacre album in three years? What, is this 1966 all over again or is this merely the compensatory energy-outburst result of coming clean? I almost feel like advi­sing Anton Newcombe to slow down, if only that did not sound so comical when addressed to a man whose favorite musical tempo has always been «hallucinating adagio». At least he seems to be sticking to the short form: this new record is only a few minutes longer than Mini Album Thingy Wingy, so that both could probably fit on a single CD if necessary — but instead of melting down our brains with one huge close-to-eighty-minutes platter, the man has mercifully agreed on two small platters instead.

And I don't just mean a technical gesture — the compositions on Third World Pyramid are conceived and executed in the exact same vein as those on Mini Album, despite having been recorded at different sessions (and even with different guest stars). This here is just another batch of psychedelic drones, with exactly one musical idea per song, because, you know, having two ideas in one song is not such a prudent thing to do — I mean, what if they contradict each other? What if they start to fight? What if the second one makes you forget about the first — then the first one would be, like, wasted? What if the second one is not as good as the first? What if it spoils your concentration, or breaks the hypnotic spell? What if somebody says, "I like how they are so influenced by Sixties' bands, but you know, they have way too many key changes in their songs, that's no longer influence — that's slavish plagiarism!"

So have no fear, Third World Pyramid is not going to swamp you with a dazzling kaleidoscope of sounds and textures. Especially now that Anton seems to have found a new muse — a young Canadian psycho-artist called Tessa Parks, specializing in pretty much the same kind of music (dark, starry-eyed drones with stoned-enchanted vocals at the bottom); they ended up touring together for a while, and on this record she is handling some of the vocal duties. In between the two, they double their efforts at retrieving the atmosphere of soul-searching French movies from the 1950s/1960s, joining it with the essence of mind-opening music from London's UFO club, and presenting the results for 21st century audiences who are so desperate for something new that they will agree to revive anything old if it helps.

Unfortunately, the results suffer from the same problems as Mini Album. Newcombe, now a consummate professional in this business, gets a great sound going — the acoustic guitars, the Mellotrons, the woodwinds, the brass fanfares — but remains unable to push this anywhere be­yond simply having a «great sound». All the core melodies are based on the same blues-rock and folk-pop chord sequences that we have heard a million times, and it hurts particularly bad when the song length is extended for no reason — ʽAssignment Songʼ drags on for nine minutes, an interminable tribute to the likes of Donovan, survivable only if you get yourself in the mood soon enough. The second half, once the vocals have died down, is awfully mushy: no single instru­mental part stands out at the expense of others, and the result is a spineless psychedelic mess, equally polyphonous and cacophonous. (For comparison, remember the stylistically close an­themic coda to something like George Harrison's ʽIt's All Too Muchʼ — where all the multiple overdubs were clustered around a very tight melodic spine that chained you to the song's rhythm while at the same time blowing your mind with all the kaleidoscopic effects).

On some very rare occasions, like the title track, they increase the tempo, but it does not help much, because the bass remains barely audible, and the truly important functions are left to the humming electronics and the mystery ghost vocals. Slow or fast, the difference between these tracks and their spiritual predecessors always remains the same: Newcombe writes atmospheric mood pieces rather than songs, and that is his stated schtick that you can take or leave. As long as I have to listen to the record to give it a brief assessment, I can take it — but I am unsure why, ten years or even ten days from now, I would still want to prefer this secondary, derivative, mono­tonous material to a classic album by, say, The 13th Floor Elevators, where I can get moods and hooks and genuine original excitement. I mean, I might be on the same wavelength with New­combe — we both acknowledge the psychedelic Sixties as one of the greatest eras of music and a guiding light for one's musical tastes and hopes — but that does not imply agreeing on how we should be dealing with this musical legacy in 2016. 

1 comment:

  1. Exactly one idea per song? Let me check your math:
    Doo-doot-da-doot da-doot-da-doot woop-woop/Doo-doot-da-doot da-doot-da-doot woop-woop, etc..
    That's one idea.

    Wa-ah-aaaaaaaah-ahh-aaaaaaaaahhhhh, Wa-ah-aaaaaaaah-ahh-aaaaaaaaahhhhh, etc..

    I count two ideas. Or at least one-ish.