The Brian Jonestown Massacre: A Revelation

[11 June 2014]

By John L. Murphy

More Solo Than Band, Sill Sour But Sweet

Album number 14 finds the singer-songwriter-musician equivalent to his band, for most of these 13 tracks feature only Anton James Newcombe. Relocated to Berlin, this finds the Brian Jonestown Massacre hearkening back to their fine full-length 1995 debut, Methodrone, which was full of shoegaze-inspired guitars, immersed in drones and doom, but as catchy as it was somber. This knack for combining the sour with the sweet sustains A Revelation.

Twenty years on, Newcombe continues to pay homage to psychedelic and glam stylings, deepened by post-punk departures from sunnier climes into darker chambers. In homage to his German residence, “Vad Hande Med Dem?” opens with a lively Krautrock beat, enhanced by Newcombe’s dry, crackling production. “What You Isn’t” offers the usual shamble that BJM fans will recognize, but this is a tighter album than some from the past decade, perhaps due to Newcombe’s rehabilitation and recovery from the addictions which had gained him notoriety. John Lennon gets a nod in the styles of “Unknown” while “Memory Camp” shuffles the space-rock influences of early BJM in a lazy melody.

Shimmering and percussive, “Days, Weeks, and Moths” lives up to that clever title with a thicker, redolent sheen of glimmer and flickers. Wandering off, banging back, “Duck and Cover” again delivers a song that sounds like its name. “Food for Clouds” wafts up with horns added, but this tune doesn’t shake off the blahs. Better is the Eastern European-inflected acoustic layers of flutes and plucked strings in “Second Sighting”; “Memorymix” doesn’t add much beyond filler, unfortunately.

The last third of the album shifts pace. Processed drums and dance beats in “Fist Full of Bees” signal Newcombe’s attempt to stay current, but as with much of this album, even this move feels a jump back to post-punk, 15 years before BJM’s releases began. Similarly, the jangling dirge in the guitar-heavy “Nightbird” proves respectable, if not revelatory. “Xibalba” reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen with a vocal reminiscent of Ian McCulloch, and a looser feel to the song’s baggier rhythm.

Concluding, “Goodbye (Butterfly)”, revives the mood with “da-da-da” backing vocals and another Echo-ish rocker which whooshes along. A Revelation documents a steady holding pattern for Newcombe and his sometime mates in this version of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. When a band, dominated by a frontman, undergoes so many lineup changes only the founder remains, this often signals creative decline. Newcombe, encouragingly, has turned his career around from the dead-end fans feared, and while this may sound more like home studio two years of tracks solo project it is than a band effort, it will satisfy those who have stuck with BJM over the past 20 years, and it seems, will for as long as Newcombe keeps making records, more modest than before, but thoughtfully crafted.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/182237-the-brian-jonestown-massacre-a-revelation/