Review Summary: 40 licks, ripped out of time, for your listening pleasure.
Has there ever been a rock band as cool as The Brian Jonestown Massacre? Hailed as "The Velvet Underground of the 90's," with a turbulent past characterized by rivalry and crime, a vitriolic hatred of the corporate music industry, and a requisite tortured genius of a front man in Anton Newcombe: what more could you ask for? Killer rock music, for one, and a cavernous catalogue of material spanning a quarter century, for another. The Brian Jonestown Massacre provide all of the above and more: perfectly packaged in their 2004 compilation: Tepid Peppermint Wonderland.
To answer the obvious: this review dissects a compilation, rather than a singular standalone album, because it best represents what The Brian Jonestown Massacre brings to the table: lick after bleeding lick of reverb-heavy blues-tinged psychedelic rock. Like their contemporaries Guided By Voices and The Dandy Warhols: that's where they shine. Not in large, heady concept albums, but in perfectly measured moment-to-moment grooves. Tepid Peppermint Wonderland is a carefully curated garden of gems, pulled from nearly a dozen preceding records, that provide the listener with a more succinct (if still lengthy) summary of this band's underground labyrinth of sound.
Dive in at any point and you'll be met with the sort of cool rock grooves that can only exist in your imagination: the untouchable soundtrack of every dream where *you* drive the car, *you* make the score, and *you* get the girl. There is a meditative quality to a slew of these downtempo songs. The languid guitar lines drip sumptuously from one note to the next, gliding up and down the scale, as the reverb drenched vocals run laps around your head like Gregorian chant. Often in minor key, but played off with the energy of a major, The Brian Jonestown Massacre's sound is distinct, but immediately familiar.
This familiarity is tied to the band's primary influences: The Rolling Stones & The Velvet Underground, which they wear on their sleeves. But despite this, The Brian Jonestown Massacre do not come across as anachronistic. In their aesthetic you can hear a mix of dedication and indifference that grants them an undeniable note of authenticity. Authenticity that carries this suite of bluesy psychedelic rock songs away from the valleys of kitsch and towards the peaks of timeless cool. 'Timeless' is the key word here: considering how strong the band's 60's influence is, the universally groovy allure of Tepid Peppermint Wonderland really does sound as if it could've come from any decade in the past century.
A case-in-point is the highlight 'Straight Up And Down:' a 90's indie rock tune that sounds ripped from the 60's and was later repurposed as the theme music for a TV drama set in the 20's. The revolving, repetitious 7-note lead-in has an immediate, attention grabbing quality. A catchy and colorful psych rock jangler that freely explores the numerous highs and lows of various keys and scales all while sounding as effortless as lounging on the summertime sand. Reverb-drenched vocals and just the right pinch of fuzz in the guitar tone give the instrumentally bright track a dissociative, melancholic mood that elevates the track as a whole - which eventually climaxes with some of the best, bluesiest guitar shredding the album has to offer.
And then, dear God: 'Anenome.' This is what game designers would call a "vertical slice" of a work of art. A single snippet of a larger whole that demonstrates with perfect, succinct precision the very best of what a larger piece of media is trying to accomplish. Every best element stacked on top of the other, with compact efficiency, moving in tandem for maximum effect. The elements at play here are its pulsing electric guitar line, sensuously writhing around the hookiest corners of its minor key, the languidly listless acoustic strumming that persists below, and the lushly lo-fi combination of bongo and tambourine: serving as the tracks imperturbable percussive backbone.
The genius in The Brian Jonestown Massacre's masterful laid-back style is in how every element sounds necessary and tight, despite the overwhelmingly languorous atmosphere. It's a delicate game of push & pull: pulling listeners in with chemically addictive guitar hooks while keeping them at bay with a persistent sense of alluring indifference. 'Anenome' is a standout because despite its morose lyricism - it being a song about isolation and loneliness - it sounds effortlessly cool and self-assured. As if the song's subject sees his romantic solitude as a foregone conclusion. One that he embraces with style:
"You should be picking me up...instead you're dragging me down,"
"Now I'm missing you more...cause baby you're not around,"
This analysis of cool could continue as the lengthy track list of Tepid Peppermint Wonderland stretches on: of 'Mary Please's' crunching call-and-repeat electric guitar work, of the locked in synthesis of acoustic and bass guitar grooves on 'Nevertheless,' of the pop-perfect architecture of the bite sized banger: 'This Is Why You Love Me.' But doing so would simply repeat the obvious: that these are, in the style of The Rolling Stones, 40 licks of pitch perfect rock. Rather than emulating the style of 60's psych rock, The Brian Jonestown Massacre embodies it just as fully as it does that of their 90's shoegaze peers: bringing the classic sound into a more modern context, while imbuing it with a distinct allure and disconnected emotional quality.
In a word: cool.