Review Summary: Dig deeper
Anton Newcombe, dictator for life to the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) collective, has chosen well. Reverting to type, the word “Aufheben” appears to have several contradictory meanings. Among other things, it can mean “to lift up”, “to transcend”, “to abolish” or “to sublate” (the assimilation of a smaller entity into a larger one).
…and these are all labels that can be applied to the sounds and personalities of BJM. Their music, at times squalling feedback, at others smoky sitar twangs, has the propensity to lift and to transcend a listener in the right frame of mind. “Abolish” is also a pertinent term, Newcombe not being afraid to wield the axe to chop and change the group’s line-up. Ironically, it is this chronic instability that has been the group’s most consistent element.
Coming from a group that uses a clever portmanteau for their name, the deployment and manipulation of language and other elements must come as a second nature. The music released over the years also adheres to this philosophy of blending and subtle nuances; 60’s psychedelic rock with an Eastern vibe. Think of 90s English public school rockers Kula Shaker, except more intense and heroin-addled. Their latest LP, the 20th in 19 years, remains true to the musical philosophy they have laid out since day one.
Indeed, it’s the music that does the talking for a good portion of the entire record. With founder member Matt Hollywood back in the fold, BJM have once again found a very rich vein of inspiration to mine. “Panic In Babylon”, a transcendental instrumental, is a knockout of an opener. It is at once uplifting and dream-like; a mixture of instruments from the east and west cascading over and around a solid, unrelenting beat. Towards the end it begins to collapse in on itself before finally imploding amidst fading instruments and a veritable menagerie of animal noises; monkeys howling and dogs growling. “Viholliseni Maalla”, following immediately after, is led by Eliza Karmasalo, whose sultry tones are delivered in a foreign language. Remarkably upbeat, poppy even, its intrinsically enigmatic qualities should keep you coming back for repeat listens. It is unclear what language is being used in “Gaz Hilarant”, although the vocals and desert-in-the-moonlight music provide it with an air of wistfulness and desire. “Illuminomi”, one of the album’s highlights, is another track sans English lyrics. This time it is French, and Newcombe’s voice drifts in and out of the multi-layered instrumentation in an ethereal fashion. Newcombe is viewed as the spectre at the feast by many an aggrieved counterpart and his vocals here serve to boost the spiritual presumptions both he and his music can conjure.
It’s an album of two halves and many personalities, a fitting outcome for the man whose drive is mainly responsible for this record. The second half eschews the more obvious Eastern influences, preferring to rely upon washes of guitar and electronic pulp. The album’s vocals remain on the back burner, leaving the listener to pick the bones out of scattered phrases, drowned-out fragments of language. “Stairway To The Best Party”, the pick of the second half, sees Newcombe begging for something, anything: “Just let me love you, honey/If I can.” “Seven Kinds Of Wonderful” is like a call to arms for the Love & Peace Revolution, whilst “Blue Order New Monday” is the kind of song Kasabian could make were they to really put their mind to it; orchestral samples and a skittish bass line.
Much like the Socialist commune they share a part of their name with, BJM retains the mysterious cult image that attracts a few but repels many. With songs that seem to have been beamed directly from some alternate dimension, underpinned by a constant message of love and hope despite hardships and horror it’s a shame the band plow on with far less recognition than they deserve.