When Brian Jones tried his best to propel the Master Musicians of Jajouka into the Western consciousness, he only partly succeeded. Sure, not every hipster with a side-parting this side of Bedford Ave has probably heard of them or has their Pan Pipes record, however, people will uncover their influences hidden deep on albums as far spread as Hector Zazou, Amon Duul II or the latest Brian Jonestown Massacre album.
Anton Newcombe raises a myriad of opposing reactions. From those itching to deck the fucker square between the eyes, to those who hover on magic carpets chasing his aura. On the latest album, Aufheben, they take a large step sideways from “My Bloody Underground” and, in part, to “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?”. Both previous records (along with a couple of EP’s that fans probably realized came out) seemed to fall squarely in the middle category of reviews. Neither were earth-shattering, yet neither would send BJM plummeting to the bottom rungs of the psychedelic rock ladder. Aufheben reclaims their position as one of the better bands that came out of the United States in the late 90’s. With swerving anthems, drug-infused helter-skelter harmonies, drony repetitive songs that fill the room and keep going long after the lights have gone out, and miraculous pop-songs.
The only problem is, we’ve been here before.
Just like their DIG! counter-parts the Dandy Warhols did on their latest album This Machine— attempting to steer the ship back to what made them credible ten years ago– with it comes the ominous sense that both bands embarked on journeys to discover new styles, when they probably should have just stayed where they were and released less albums so nobody got bored.
The mad maestro himself has always had a soft spot for sitars, stringed instruments resembling sitars, keyboards that sound remotely like sitars, in fact, pretty much anything with that distinct indian twaaaaaang to it lies buried in the background of most albums suffusing everything “druggy”. His penchance for mystical chords stems from years researching Gurdieff and Angus Maclise’s Kathmandu recordings that created wonderful backdrops for Ira Cohen’s timeless photographs of the Mylar Chamber. This group of bearded prophets back in the 60’s, with this limited output, virtually no promo, have managed to seep into timeless artists scrambling’s of songs or artwork. Kudos to those who discover them, even more to the instigators.
The music of India has certainly played it’s part in Anton’s deconstruction of indie pop, but also, his fascination with India has overlapped into his stage performances, clothing, manner of sitting cross-legged in meditation pose while beating a tabla (as witness in a slightly wanky jam BJM did at 2006’s SXSW surrounded by girls in stripy shirts and boys in drainpipe jeans lapping all the cosmic rays deep into their Pitchfork minds). He loves playing the villain, and he does a bloody good job of making people hate him.
Aufheben opens with the gloriously poppy intro/instrumental “Panic in Babylon”. A David Axelrod/Popol Vuh-esque soundscape with indifferent drums and a whiny melody flailing away under the Middle Eastern vibrations overlapping at the helm. “Viholliseni Maalla” could be a Stereolab song if Andy Ramsay was on a shitload of amphetamines. The female vocals opening the album from it’s instrumental beginnings into the quasi-Seely/Stereolab fluctuations. “Gaz Hilarant” was probably not the best song to follow “Viholliseni”, a weak vibe, lackadaisical vocals, the abilities of Anton are definitely not on display here. It fades in, fades out, and might just as well have not bothered at all. “Illuminoumi” picks up the tempo with a super slick drowning keyboard melody lying beneath the reverb soaked drums and the cluttered/swampy vocals holding it all together. “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand” is where BJM finally return. A classic Anton tune with it’s waaa haaay haaay banter and druggy Gallagher vox wrapped around uncluttered arrangements. “Face Down On The Moon” takes a bit too big a pinch from The Incredible String Band for my liking, and the remainder of the songs vary from rather pleasant: “The Clouds Are Nice”, to an unmistakably Stones-y riff on “Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe”, while “Seven Kinds of Wonderful” sounds like 7 of the album tracks got mixed down to one track.
In the grander scheme of things this record will most likely end up forgotten after a few years, replaced on the shelf by other sound-a-like bands who happen to be more hip or credible in 2014, however, Anton did manage to summon some of his old song writing wit and turn it into a decent album that fans will no doubt get a few good listens out of before hopping onto the latest offering by a band who’s name contains a mixture of the following words: Black, White, Neon, Panda, Wolf, Bear, Crystal, Magic or Rainbow.