Release Date: May 1, 2012
Record label: A Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
If there’s an obligatory mention regarding The Brian Jonestown Massacre more tired than references to the increasingly time-capsuled documentary Dig!, it’s the assertion that Anton Newcombe makes music to do drugs to. The very straightforwardness of such a comment screams like an English as Second Language translation, not to mention a backhanded compliment to records as stand-alone impressive as Give It Back! and Bravery, Repetition and Noise. Newcombe may exude an addict’s smoky snarl when surfacing over the mesmerizingly lethargic Gaz Hilarant but he’s actually been sober for over two years, which all but highlights my main beef with “music to do drugs to”: namely, what music can’t you do drugs to? An album that’s too sedate? Or bands whose performances are too high-strung? Or are we really talking about personal preferences, whatever music you just don’t like? By that understanding, if Aufheben – a German word meaning “to lift up” as well as “to abolish” – warrants the “drug music” flair on its digi-pack sleeve, it’s because these eleven songs, under any influence or none, prove very likeable.
Anton Newcombe continues to explore his influences on Aufheben and, as the Kraftwerkian name implies, Krautrock plays a big part in this release. Recorded in Berlin, one might be reminded of David Bowie's Berlin trilogy. Like Low, Heroes, and Lodger, BJM's output from 2008 to 2012 (My Bloody Underground, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, and this album) is a highly experimental series -- full of fractured song structures and lengthy, extensive jams -- but each of the three feels cut from the same cloth and, when stepping back and fanning through the discography, they could easily be considered career highlights.
Nearly 10 years since the infamous documentary DIG!, The Brian Jonestown Massacre continue to plough their whimsical psychedelic furrow. Mainman Anton Newcombe is now sober, and here has made his best album since 2003’s ‘…And This Is Our Music’. Cohorts include Will Carruthers (ex-Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) and returning member Matt Hollywood (last seen storming offstage in DIG!), who sings one of the highlights, the fantastically titled ‘I Want To Hold Your Other Hand’.
Review Summary: Dig deeperAnton Newcombe, dictator for life to the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) collective, has chosen well. Reverting to type, the word “Aufheben” appears to have several contradictory meanings. Among other things, it can mean “to lift up”, “to transcend”, “to abolish” or “to sublate” (the assimilation of a smaller entity into a larger one).…and these are all labels that can be applied to the sounds and personalities of BJM.
Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by eccentric frontman Anton Newcombe, has gone through a particularly schizophrenic 2000s. Its recorded output has been uneven at best, with decent recordings sitting side-by-side with unlistenable dreck, and with each album it was not sure exactly which Brian Jonestown Massacre would show up. Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, released in 2010, was somewhat of a return to form for the band, marking the return of original guitarist Matt Hollywood and featuring Spacemen 3/Spiritualized's Will Carruthers on bass.
There are (at least) two Anton Newcombes. There’s the infamous walking hydrogen-bomb that we all know and love to love from a safe distance, behind some police tape. A reliably unpredictable and captivating interviewee seemingly fuelled by controversy. This persona is probably highlighted best by his concise, insightful review of the life and times of one Eric Clapton: “What has he ever done except throw his baby off a fuckin' ledge and write a song about it?” Like a young David Starkey, isn’t he? The other Anton fronts The Brian Jonestown Massacre, playing Fagin to San Francisco’s revolving band of misfits, a group enthralled to the sound, ideology and chemical experimentation of the Sixties.
The status of prolific neo-psychedelic outfit the Brian Jonestown Massacre is always in question. With nearly forty members revolving around the San Francisco band since its inception in 1990, the one constant variable is outspoken frontman Anton Newcombe. The brilliant beginnings of the heroin-addled Methodrone and Their Satanic Majesties Second Request garnered them comparisons to the brilliant white noise tendencies of the Velvet Underground, only for them to later release the terribly indulgent My Bloody Underground.
From day one, the Brian Jonestown Massacre demanded a certain amount of commitment: Between their 1993 debut and ill-fated 1998 signing with TVT Records, Anton Newcombe's rock'n'roll circus released no fewer than seven albums, three of them long enough to qualify as doubles. But it was still easy to make sense of their instantly sprawling discography, as each record presented a distinct identity and intent: Methodrone was their bad-trip take on shoegazing drone-rock; Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request exuded a Beatles-in-India splendor; Take It From the Man! channeled the sneering petulance of mid-1960s freakbeat; Thank God for Mental Illness captured Newcombe in busker-Dylan mode, and so on. Newcombe's influences were easy to parse on those early records, but at a time when the pop mainstream was starting to embrace electronica, and the initial promise of grunge had been diluted into corporatized alt-rock, Newcombe's fervent dedication to reviving these once-revolutionary musical forms constituted its own act of radicalism.
It’s nothing short of fitting that the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album carries an indefinable title. Scratch that — it’s not that Aufheben lacks a definition, but that it has too many, all of which seem to contradict one another. The German word, alternately translatable as “to abolish” or “to ascend”, among others, is perfectly suited as a banner draped across the group’s latest effort, rife as it is with experimental abstruseness.
Named for Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones and his influence with regards to incorporating Eastern instrumentation with Western sensibilities, the earliest Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) material certainly wore the band’s major influence and namesake on its sleeve. The rockin’ blues and raw sexuality associated with Brian Jones era Rolling Stones was embodied by BJM frontman Anton Newcombe and releases like 1996’s Take It From the Man! with its mid ’60s era Stones rock & roll feel and 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Second Request, where the Eastern influences are more obvious and out front of the band’s trademark psychedelia. As the band’s career progressed, the obvious Stones’ influence would ebb and flow, always present but sometimes taking a backseat to other influences with releases like 2008’s My Bloody Underground and 2010’s Who Killed Sgt.