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July 16, 2010

Strung Out in Heaven

My last Casual Fridays post featured my favorite neo-psychedelic artist of the last decade, Animal Collective, coming in at number 7 in my Favorite Albums of the Decade list (FAD) with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.   That put me more than halfway through the list, with Number 8 on its way – soon – once I get through a recent distraction.

I often consume music through serial obsessions which have certainly served as a filter for putting together my FAD list, a recollection of all the new records and artists I could not get enough of at some point during the last decade.  I also get re-obsessed with older music, often in regular cycles.  There’s a yearly all-out Beatles orgy.  I remember listening to nothing but Bob Dylan for about three months after seeing Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan fetish film I’m Not There, a pass I repeated recently after reading Greil Marcus’ Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.

File:Album Cover Strung Out In Heaven.jpgThe absence of a FAD post in previous weeks is a result of just such a re-binge.  I have been Strung Out in Heaven, if you will, with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), a band I suspect many of you have not heard, but one I really want you to hear.

It all started about five weeks ago, on June 5, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

This was not the first time…

Indie Music – a technical definition – from Wikipedia  – “a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels and an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach (DIY) to recording and publishing.”

Indie Music – a working definition – music most people have never heard made by artists most people have never heard of.

Indie Music – a reality – often great music made by artists that fail to achieve mainstream notoriety during the most active portion of their careers, either because of their avant-garde nature or because of a deep flaw in their actions or temperament that leaves them incompatible with the uncompromising workings of scaled commerce, a/k/a the music business.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre is Indie Music, complies with each of these definitions, and is a complete mess, in some ways a real massacre, of itself.  It’s an Indie band for life, featuring throughout its history over 40 different musicians, most leaving the band as a result of impossible differences, or a violent exchange, or both, with BJM’s founder, the sole constant over the band’s history, and apparently a complete and utter psychopath, Anton Newcombe.

There is always wonder surrounding a BJM live show.  Will Anton blow-up on stage, resulting in a completely ridiculous gig, probably cut short by his and the band’s inability to resume peacefully, or will the band be tight and musical.  In either case it is entertaining, but if you are lucky enough to see a show where all goes well, as I was on June 5, you’re likely to see and hear some of the best 60’s-influenced psychedelic-pop music in the world.  The band is really that good, particularly its catalogue of music created from the Mid-1990’s through around 2004.

It turns out there’s a lot in a name if there is enough thought put into it, and Anton is a purposeful and revealing namer of his band, its songs and its albums.  The name Brian Jonestown Massacre tells us a lot about the sound, a wacky tribute to: (i) one Brian Jones, the long-dead founder of the Rolling Stones and one of rock’s first multi-instrumentalists, (ii) cultism, (iii) violence and (iv) hypnotics.  Not surprisingly, Anton, an American from California, is: (1) a devoted anglophile, (2) a lover of late-sixties-early-seventies trip music, a la Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Jones-era Stones, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, (3) a shoegazer (think My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain), (4) underground, and (5) obsessed with the sound of 1960’s guitars underneath the beat of maracas and tambourines.  BJM picks up these classic sounds and movements, revitalizing them in a contemporary context, combining candor, abstraction, irony, love, and, oh, some damn catchy hooks.

This band should have been ample competition for Oasis and Blur in the 1990s, but even as messed up as both those Brit-rock 90’s favorites were, BJM had them beat.  BJM just could not be counted on; they were a bad investment, blowing every opportunity for mainstream exposure.  Today they exist primarily as an influence on many current, highly successful revivalist bands like the White Stripes, the Black Keys and the Strokes.  They still play to small clubs and ballroom audiences that learned of them primarily through indie rags and their starring role in the 2004 award-winning documentary  DIG!, a terrific film that presents the absurdity, comedy, violence and occasional genius of Newcombe and his ever-changing band of followers over a seven-year period where they regress from leaders of the Indie Music scene to also-rans to their major-label-neo-psychedelic contemporaries The Dandy Warhols.

Despite all of its flaws BJM is not lazy.  Anton is an obsessive worker and a super-prolific songwriter with a discography that includes at least 19 available EP/LPs made mostly by the band themselves.  Most BJM’s records are of the DIY variety, made on low budgets and pretty much anywhere the band could find recording equipment.  From 1993-2004 the songwriting quality is outstanding and consistent, but some of the recordings are not.  The one major label record (for TVT Records in 1998) is the herein referenced Strung Out in Heaven, a higher budget affair and the perfect entry point for BJM newbies.  If you like the Beatles, the Byrds, the Animals, the Velvet Underground and/or early Rolling Stones, I believe you will adore this album.  If that’s not enough, and for me it wasn’t, try Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request followed by a greatest hit compilation of sorts, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland.  The good news is that if you get hooked, and you might, there is plenty more great material to explore.

_____________________________________________

Notable(s):

Dig! is a fantastic film – check out the trailer below – see it.

Whoever this drfostersmith is, he’s got some great footage of the new BJM line up on youtube.  Here’s one of my favorites, Anemone, from the BJM album Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request, a two chord hypnotic that my wife plays along with at home on her lefty guitar.  This version was performed during BJM’s recent 2010 tour, featuring Anton’s reunion with founding member Matt Hollywood.  Check out all those gorgeous 60’s guitars.  How many are there?  Too many to count, man!

I – I think I know how I feel
cause I – I only play it for-real
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
flying over my head
you’re landing all over town

you – you know that I try
try to tell you the truth
oh baby don’t make me lie
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
now I’m missing you more
cause baby you’re not around
now that you’re not around
I – I want to know how it feels
cause I – I only play act for-real
you should be picking me up
instead your dragging me down
I could be giving you love
but you’re not around
now that you’re not around
now that you’re not around
glad that you’re not around
If your curious about BJM’s personality, check out this interview with “Anton the Vessel,” which speaks for itself.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] posted on some interesting D-I-Y artists in the past, including Bon Iver, Animal Collective and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and as I find more new acts that make great music outside the power base of the music […]

    Pingback by A Business Chart for Music Fans « Krupa's Back Pages — February 17, 2011 @ 11:50 am | Reply


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