For all intents and purposes, The Brian Jonestown Massacre is not so much a band these days as it is a man. With the majority of its 40 or so previous members living in the US and Anton Newcombe now living in Berlin, it’s been even more of a solo project of late. For live performances, Newcombe tends to call in his American compatriots such as the irreplaceable cult figure of Joel Gion on tambourine, but for studio recordings – at his own Cobra Studio – European artists tend to flesh out his sound. He can, of course, play around 80 musical instruments himself, but maybe not all to the standard he wants on a BJM release.
For album 18, Newcombe’s joined the mass ranks of naming an album well into a career eponymously; what that’s all about is debatable. Maybe it’s to do with a statement, of the type “we are Band X and this is who we are”. In BJM’s case, that’s exactly what it is because, in contrast to more recent releases – particularly the double album Don’t Get Lost from 2017 that featured the most experimentation Newcombe has ever done in one place before – The Brian Jonestown Massacre is exactly what you expect, and selfishly want, The Brian Jonestown Massacre to sound like.
BJM’s standard template is well-worn: strumming acoustic guitar, tambourine, accompanying rather than dominating drum patterns, and wiry, meandering jangly, Byrdsian electric guitar lines create the canvas and Newcombe’s weathered vocals puncture the dreamy 1960s psychedelia at opportune moments. Instrumentals that utilise this template aren’t abundant in BJM’s canon, but there is one here – My Mind Is Filled With Stuff – and with Hammond organ and heavily reverbed guitar it sounds straight out of 1967.
Opener Drained has all the hallmarks of classic BJM as Newcombe declares, ironically, “I’ve got nothing to say”; with albums coming thick and fast this far into his career, that’s bullshit right there, but it’s the soundscape that excels as this is the drug that BJM fans crave, particularly the subtle guitar melodies that reap the greatest rewards for listeners bothering to hear past the ’60s soaked psych melded with a light shoegaze feel. Another slippery snakelike guitar solo slithers its way through the chugging Cannot Be Saved to good effect for more signature sounding stuff whilst more standard fodder arrives in the shape of Too Sad To Tell You where atmospheric keys add an extra dimension.
The more up tempo Remember Me This conjures visions of a ’60s dancefloor before closer What Can I Say builds itself around a repetitive three-note riff, helping to emphasise that the consistency on show here is maintained better than ever before, although the peaks aren’t always as high. Two of the very best here are comparable to anything Newcombe’s put out. Sultry cut Tombes Oubliées is what Newcombe’s music was made for. Check out his albums with Tess Parks for more in this vein: dusky, whispery vocals sung seductively sexily, this time courtesy of previous cohort Rike Bienert, although it’s still some way short of the brilliant Anemone featuring Mara Keagle from 1996’s Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. The excellent We Never Had A Chance is even better, a number that’s already been promoted to opening track for many a gig; smooth keyboard chords back the track as more irresistible guitar soloing slinks in and out of earshot as Newcombe tells of the adverse effects of the “American dream” and detractors “drilling holes in your head”.
If, like some, you think BJM albums all sound the same then you obviously haven’t heard Don’t Get Lost, or Newcombe’s albums with Parks. For The Brian Jonestown Massacre, though, it’s a fair cop on the surface at least but, barring the excellent 2015 EP Mini Album Thingy Wingy and, of course, the incomparable must-have double compilation Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective, this is possibly the best trademark BJM sounding collection you’ll find.