Brian Jonestown Massacre
My Bloody Underground
Every year about this time, I am in some sort of occupational turmoil, a dull suburbanite manifestation of the global orgy that is spring trickled down to the life of a worker, and my listening habits are the most accurate reflection of this anxiety. My listening habits probably explain me the best - should I ever go back into therapy, I'll just send the shrink my last.fm account and have him email me their analysis.
Lately, I hate everything in my inbox. It's all so stupid. It makes me want to find every half-lidded half-wit with a guitar and myspace profile and a publicist, and whip them in the street with a belt for wasting all this opportunity, all their rock 'n' roll orgone on making stupid music. I listen to these things and wonder: do you really consider yourself a band? Is this really what you wanted to do? I read something recently where the tastemakers of Brooklyn have abandoned indie rock for organic produce and locally produced cheese as the defining attributes of their caste, and really who can blame them - it has a longer shelf life.
So what do I do but scavenge the past, looking for anything that will hit. In the past week I have been momentarily obsessed with Marc Almond, Yes, The Cars, The Lyres, Van der Graff Generator, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Ravi Shankhar, all possessing a flicker in the dark night only to be snuffed out by my own movements as I approach their warmth, leaving only a whisper of smoke. Who, I rage with fists clenched to the darkness. Who will save me from all this? Don't make me start reading Beckett again....
Then suddenly I hear an almost metallic whinny on the torched plain, and band of horsemen, ragged and half-eaten by flies come thundering over the rise, bearing a bright pink pennant embroidered with a cartoon fist, middle finger raised. Brian Jonestown Massacre is here to save/destroy us and to spread the good news that everything is as dire as we think it is! Rejoice!
Many will point this group out to be a gaggle of idiots and I can support this personally: 1) just watch DiG, and even considering that it was likely manipulated in editing to make them look like horrible people, there was still raw material to pull from, and 2) a disastrous performance I witnessed where they dispensed with the concert all together and went straight to onstage spat. It was like watching yourself argue with your girlfriend about why you don't like her friends. Whatever. I chalk these public bad behaviors up to the wages of genius because upon the first throb of My Bloody Underground, I once again climb a mountain of skulls and proclaim them The Last Great Rock Band on Earth.
As the title possibly alludes, this record finds them in a perfect haze squarely between My Bloody Valentine's over-lauded pulsar fuzz orrery rock and Julian Cope's momentary lapse of madness in 1988's relative failure My Nation Underground. These two records are, respectively not as good and not as bad as history portrays them, and My Bloody Underground combines the successes and failings of them in much the way the band itself reconciles the glorious and insipid of rock 'n' roll itself. One is tempted to call Brian Jonestown Massacre inspired, but I think the polar opposite is more the case. They are bored and bummed-out, but to terrifying degrees.
Take the opening zombie jamboree succinctly titled "Bring me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills' Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House)," for all that exegesis, it is a droney VU acoustic-jumble that trudges through its 6:27 like it's the tail end of a death march. You keep thinking there is going to be a chorus, a bridge, something but over each rise there lays just more road. What A.A. Newcombe is going on about I couldn't tell you; you just get choice bits like "it's eating the planets and playing guitars" to gnaw on as you plod with it. I love it.
It appears that BJM has a bag of killer songs and a separate bag of incendiary title parodies, and come time to make this record, they pulled blindly from each. "Who Fucking Pissed in My Well?" is a pastoral guitar figure cross pollinated with Neu! motorik tendencies. "Automatic Faggot for the People" is a rage of pounding psyche drums with echoey Black Metal screams issuing deep from its irritated bowel. "We Are the Niggers of the World" is the banner above a rather pleasing piano etude you think is, at any point, going to go south, but it doesn't. "Just like Kicking Jesus" is a loopy woozy number that holds the strongest MBV comparisons. Oh, and on top of this lethargic cake of music is a generous frosting of hiss.
Brian Jonestown Massacre doesn't give a fuck, and it does it in the most amazing way. Each number resides in its own insular place, built-up of half-baked ideas and innocuous mortars by lazy, exhausted laborers but when viewed from a couple steps back, it becomes a complex of ornate rotting temples. BJM is willing to lay it on thick (see the organ hallucination "Ljosmindir") follow the path of least resistance ("Who Cares Why" is a single loop in which the group finds itself lazily coiled) and even once in a while, playing to their strengths just to shake things up ("Yeah - Yeah" is as good a summer bummer pop hit as anything off their stellar 1998 Strung Out in Heaven album.) All of it bears the delicious air of insouciance and un-concern. Newcombe doesn't need your love and is not even amused by your hate anymore, and right there, in that sorry filthy pocket does his prowess shine. Nobody sounds as good as they do when they no longer care.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com