The Brian Jonestown Massacre
“The simple answer is I love the word. Most of the time I would classify my work ‘sruti,’ i.e. [the] ‘what is heard,’ definition of the word ‘revelation.’ But on this album and with these songs, there was nothing. No ideas and no guidance and I was still able to create the record for me. That was a revelation.”
Anton Newcombe, founder and leader of psychedelic rock band The Brian Jonestown Massacre, has never been shy about mixing spiritual overtones with his music. Whether penning song lyrics that mention Jesus, God and even the Devil, or describing his own creative process, like in the quote above, with a markedly mystical aura, Newcombe has always seemed like a songwriter with one eye on the otherworldly.
Now on his newest record, and first to be solely recorded and produced at his own studio in Berlin, Germany, the indie rocker who once sang of praying to “to Buddah, to Allah, and Jim [Jones],” has crafted a song cycle as prophetic as it is apocalyptic.
Featuring vocals sung in Swedish by musician Joachim Alhund, the opening track on Revelation “Vad Hände Med Dem?” is a bracing introduction. Rapid-fire drums push the song forward relentlessly as Alhund’s words bubble up in the mix like directions from a tour guide.
Elsewhere, “What You Isn’t” pays a hazy nod to such past BJM cuts as “You Have Been Disconnected” and “Open Heart Surgery” from 2001’s Bravery, Repetition and Noise. The song’s rhythm simmers instead of boils, creating a foundation for lines about walking “through the fire and the fear” and breaking down the “walls of glass.”
For those with a soft spot for older Massacre material, a welcome return on Revelation is made by Newcombe’s use of guitar and other classic rock instrumentation. Where records like 2012’s Aufheben and 2010’s Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? traded liberally in electronic-aided grooves and beats, here acoustic strums and loose electric leads star prominently, adding swaying layers to several numbers jam-like feel. Yet, even though songs like “Days, Weeks and Moths” and “Memory Camp” may appear improvised, neither overstays its welcome, coming in at under five and under six minutes respectively.
More eclectic influences do reappear on Revelation’s second side. The wordless “Second Sighting” feels like an ornate recital with sighing strings and medieval flute, while “Fistful of Bees” displays a more gothic pedigree that includes a lumbering beat and ‘80s synth-work. The latter track even resembles a plodding beast strait out of the Book of Revelation itself, promising to leave nothing but death and destruction in its wake.
Listen to "Fistful of Bees" from The Brian Jonestown Massacre album "Revelation" here:
How odd it is then that Newcombe follows “Bees” with the almost entirely acoustic “Nightbird” and the rave-up worthy “Xibalba.” Like small rewards waiting on shore after listeners weather a mighty storm, each song seems to signify that the worst is over and one has reached the other side alive and emboldened by the adventure signified by the previous 10 tracks.
By the time Revelation ends with the “Goodbye (Butterfly),” the finale feels like a movie’s closing credits. Newcombe has spoken before of his wish to work on film soundtracks, and he illustrates his skill clearly with “hoo, hoo” backing vocals and churning acoustic guitar over rising and falling synthesizer sounds.
“Funny how time flies,” he sings.
Fans of the BJM might think the same thing, especially as they rush back to start the record over again.
For more information on The Brian Jonestown Massacre please visit www.brianjonestownmassacre.com.
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