BJM may have set the controls for the heart of the sun, ultimate destination unknown, but nobody’s cruising on autopilot here on this psychedelic Krautrock/shoegaze epic—on gorgeous yellow vinyl, to boot.
By FRED MILLS
After Anton Newcombe, the mad genius behind Cali space rockers the Brian Jonestown Massacre, relocated (fled? teleported? dematerialized?) to Berlin, he set about assembling a recording complex. The resulting Cobra Studio soon yielded Revelation, followed by Third World Pyramid which, with its trippy mélange of fuzzed-out psych, West Coast-styled modal folk-rock, droney Krautrock, and even the occasional Beatlesque jangle-pop flourish, was one of 2016’s shining avatars of mind-expansion/-immersion music. That the LP’s die-cut sleeve mimicked the old Spacemen 3 numeral logo was certainly no accident, either, considering that Newcombe and erstwhile S3 guitarist Sonic Boom are musical birds of a feather. Raise your hand if you coveted the purplish-tinted vinyl the record was pressed on, too.
Now comes the follow-up, the group’s 16th studio full-length, released as usual on Newcombe’s own A Recordings label, distributed Stateside via Forced Exposure, which should be a TMOQ in any music fan’s book. While it’s almost inconceivable that BJM could top Third World Pyramid, that’s exactly what they’ve done, on all fronts—sonically, stylistically, even design-wise, with two slabs of almost fluorescent yellow 180gm. vinyl housed in a brilliantly-hued gatefold sleeve that depicts circuitry in extreme close-up on the outside and alien-green lyrics littering the inside to resemble code raining down a computer screen a la The Matrix. (Consumer note: download code not included, but the album’s on Spotify. Below, the new album and its predecessor.)
The 2LP set (or single CD) kicks off already in high gear with “Open Minds Now Close,” an eight-minute, motoric slice of propulsion rock awash in pulsing guitar drones and shimmering synth lines that, indeed, recalls Spacemen 3 at its Sonic Boom-Jason Pierce peak. A couple of tracks later we get the titled-too-perfect-for-its-time “Resist Much Obey Little,” a thrumming, Velvet Underground-esque number. Soon enough “Groove Is in the Heart”—not the early ‘90s Deee-Lite hit—cues up, darkly ominous with shuddery waves of tremolo and deep-space twang, plus Tess Parks’ languid call and response vocals with Shaun Rivers lending a decisively stoned edge to the proceedings.
Whew. Not even halfway through the album and you’ve already taken a series of interdimensional skips. Plenty more to come, from the minimalist, pastoral, mellotron/piano-powered “One Slow Breath” and the pounding, cavernous “Throbbing Gristle” (homage?), which features Parks on lead vocals this time; to the hypnotic, Joy Division/New Order-like “Fact 67” featuring the Charlatan’s Tim Burgess on vocals, and shoegazey instrumental “UFO Paycheck.” Nearly half of the tracks here top the five-minute mark, giving the players plenty of room to stretch out, almost in jamming fashion but typically utilizing repetition of riffs and grooves to lock the listener’s body onto the same wavelength. Here and there BJM also slip off onto odd stylistic tangents—a freeform, sax-led jazzy “Geldenes Herz Menz,” for example, a kind of Madchester rave anthem titled “Acid 2 Me Is No Worse than War,” and a droning final track sung entirely in German, “Ich Bin Klang.” These serve to reinforce the record’s take-a-trip-with-us vibe, because nothing about this band is random; they may have set the controls for the heart of the sun, ultimate destination unknown, but nobody’s cruising on autopilot here.
Newcombe and bandmates Ricky Maymi, Dann Allaire, Collin Hegna, and Ryan Van Kriedt are joined by TWP alumni Emil Nikolaisen (of Serena-Maneesh) and Parks (who, as before, brings a kind of Nico-meets-Hope Sandoval edge to the songs that she sings on), plus Pete Fraser (Pogues, New Young Pony Club) on sax, and both Rivers and Burgess on vocals. Tellingly, the sleeve also lists “Ghosts” in the personnel credits: There is indeed a ghost or two in this machine, a haunting, haunted probe of the inner eye in all its psychedelic glory.
Below: watch a complete BJM concert from the Caberet Vert festival in France last year – in HD, no less.