The Brian Jonestown Massacre: … And This Is Our Music (2003)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: ...And This Is Our Music (2003)

This is an older review of mine, presented here for archival purposes. The writing is undoubtedly different to the present, and the review style may differ between publications. Enjoy, if that’s the right word.

First things first. …And This Is Our Music is an album created by people who’ll probably want to kick in the heads of reviewers everywhere. Scope out the liner-notes and you’ll see that self-serving critics make a list of people officially put on notice that they’re “Officially uninvited to our party!!!” – replete with three exclamation marks.

That’s not very hippie, is it? In fact, it probably qualifies as a freak-out, baby. But that’s fine, because the music recorded here overtakes any attitude-based party exclusions that The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Anton Newcombe, boss man and chief sonic wrangler) could hurl. (Of course, the fact that elsewhere in the same notes – couched in a track-by-track commentary, revealing musical inspirations, drug information and touching rave-ups of guest vocalists – lies a thoroughly shameless attempt to pick up BJM-fancying ladies weighs a little in their favour, too.)

Eno-esque synth washes and organ tweetings reminiscent of birds in heaven open this wide-ranging album. It’s not particularly rock, though it’s not entirely misleading: this disc is certainly akin to a soundtrack. You know how some of them don’t make sense entirely without knowing the film – the soundtrack to Angel Heart is a good example – but work on the basis of their own musical merits? That’s what …And This Is Our Music is like. There’s the maddening sense that if you had a couple of visual cues there’d be an unfolding of meaning, a narrative that’s perfectly understandable. But over the course of the smoky-aired album, it becomes apparent that we’re never meant to really understand; just absorb. Which is a challenge with something as narcotic-minded – and as wilfully meandering – as the songs collected here are. There’s no power-pop press-out formula at work, and it’s somewhat redundant to look at any one tune as being indicative of the whole album. But here’s a selection – a psychedelic taster, if you like.

(Yes, it’s particularly hard to avoid making drug references when you’re dealing with song titles like ‘You Look Great When I’m Fucked Up’, ‘A New Low In Getting High’ and ‘Prozac Vs. Heroin’ on the album, as well as references to crack pipes, DMT and magic mushrooms in the liner notes. Ahem.)

‘You Look Great When I’m Fucked Up’ is the album’s most epic moment, and probably its most immediately affecting. It’s a landslide of Morricone and Leone; whistling, football horns, lamenting Mexican troubadours and an unearthly vocalise that could be coming from galaxies light years away. If bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor could take themselves a little less seriously, this is the kind of grandeur that they could attain. If you want spacerock, there’s no finer example.

On the other hand, ‘Maryanne’, a song of love uncommunicated, is a tune that’s so simple and honest – though it’s filled with multiple layers of guitar and reedy organ – that it grabs you completely with its plainness. Only two minutes long, it sounds almost like a rehearsal, but there’s something endearing enough to make it fly. There’s a moment where horns doubling the vocal lines ramp up and turn human voice to brass tones that’s so beautiful you’ll hardly believe what you’re hearing.

Tracks like ‘Here It Comes’ see the BJM taking on The Beatles, it seems. Well, The Beatles if they’d been a little more whacked-out, and had heard Mercury Rev. Sleepy vocals, almost-there drumming and the moaning, ecstatic anticipation of a celestial hit swathed in warm, rounded bass. ‘When Jokers Attack’ is a phenomenal pop song. It’s reminiscent of something that The Church might put out, all shimmering guitars of mystery and somehow melancholic jauntiness. Geezers sounds like something from The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, only better. And ‘What Did You Say?’ is a 44-second burst of Latin beats and craziness that sparks intrigue before disappearing, leaving you quizzical.

And so it goes. And that’s only a handful of what you’ll hear here. Messy and occasionally infuriating – but worth the journey.

There’s a very strong whiff of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized to the music that’s created by The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s group of musicians, not least of all because of the overwhelming number of them that contribute to the recording process. There’s been over forty different members of the band, apparently, but here there’s fifteen at work all up – including our own Matthew J. Tow of The Lovetones, who kicks in a very Lennon-sounding vocal on ‘Starcleaner’ – ranging from horns and guitar to whistling and flute. And that’s not even including The Holy Spirit, who gets a nod for “just kicking back and doing his thing”. But quite aside from that, the Jason Pierce predilections of faith, redemption and getting fucked-up with symphonic grandeur soundtracking are all intact here. At one point – ‘Prozac Vs. Heroin’ – the listener is confronted with a perversely solipsistic version of The Lord’s Prayer, with Anton as the son of God. You’re left with the feeling that he’s an excess-driven holy roller by the album’s end; but he’s one with a deeply soft spot. Sort of like a deity who’d offer you some Quaaludes instead of a smiting. There’s faith and love alongside the solipsism, and it’s what gives these tunes soul.

Over the length of its fifteen tracks, …And This Is Our Music is an album that’ll take you on a trip, literally. It supports casual listening, sure – when was the last time you heard a psychedelic album that didn’t make great, spongy background sounds – but to get the most out of this disc you’ll need to give it your attention. Listen to it in total. Try to decipher the clues in the liner notes. Sort of like a musical Where’s Waldo?, the album veers all over the shop, a riff-and-feel-driven game of Scotland Yard. And despite the fact that by the end it’s highly likely that you haven’t reached any real decision about what the album’s meant to be communicating, it doesn’t seem to matter. This music’s a trip and is best experienced as such – on a thought-free, couch-dwelling day when you can just let it wash over you. It’s less about the tunes and the indefinite way it makes you feel. If you’re terminally hip and crave angularity and constant precision, you probably won’t like it. But if you’re feeling a little smeared, if you’re entranced by the ephemeral and the out-of-focus, this is a tasty disc.

Today’s thoughts: Firstly: Ugh, that Mike Myers reference chafes. Secondly: After seeing DiG! I ended up meeting Anton before a radio session at FBI radio. I was a bit nervous, but he was charming: I’d been roped in to bring a couple of CDs that he might like to play, and I remember him enthusing about Elliott Smith. A very sweet guy, as was Matt Tow, who was squiring him around town. I still listen to this album, and still really like it, as well as Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, the 2CD collection that came out after this – Anton can write killer songs, and it’s great to see him thriving (and producing more and more tunes) in Berlin. I hope I get to see ’em again sometime.)

First published on FasterLouder in April 2004.

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