Friday, July 10, 2015

Brian Jonestown Massacre's "Methodrone": Music Review

 Although over 40 different members passed through The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the core of the band remains singer-guitarist Anton Newcombe, who started the band in San Francisco 25 years ago. They debuted with Spacegirl and Other Favorites, a lo-fi LP limited to 500 copies, but for most longtime fans, Methrodrone was the first time we heard BJM. Originally released on Bomp in 1995, the album’s 70 minutes blend drones with shoegaze. It’s not a combination they would return to until Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (2010), but it endures as my favorite record from their lengthy discography.

The band had not yet entered their Rolling Stones phase, but their second-hand psychedelia is already dead-on. The hazy production obscures the ambiance, but still brightness penetrates. Its tracks often compared to Loop, My Bloody Valentine, and Jesus and Mary Chain, the album opens with “Evergreen,” backed by lazy female vocals. But “Wisdom” better expresses the band’s alternating chime and crush, gentle but insistent. Wrapped around a compact hook, it burrows into the listener’s mind. The noisier “Crushed” enters a spacy disorientation over circular guitars credited to Jeffrey Davies and (perhaps) Dean Taylor in an unstable lineup from BJM’s birth.

“That Girl Suicide” clatters along despite its title, pinpointing the time when the British Invasion and its American imitators blurred into acid-rock. The jangle of The Byrds meets the miasma of mid-decade Beatles, with slashes of punk guitar cutting into the dreamy, airborne melody.

Newcombe’s wistful, slight delivery echoes over the layered production and jet-take off dynamics.
Over a distant organ, Newcombe confesses his failures on “Wasted,” which, despite what you might read online, is not a Black Flag cover. “Everyone Says” integrates a woman’s chanted “tell her it’s long ago” under his own voice, as the rhythm section rises. Bassists Matt Hollywood and Rick Maymi contribute solid work to Methodrone. While Newcombe has always taken the spotlight, his many bandmates deserve recognition for their skills at mixing influences from 50 years ago into new tunes.

A few songs drag the album down. “Short Wave” finds Newcombe with a poor British accent over attenuated guitars that recall My Bloody Valentine. “She Made Me” follows with fewer vocals but a similar feel, while “Records” is no more than throwaway feedback and studio noodling. “I Love You” provides a moody if unoriginal ballad to change the pace before the gloomy atmosphere of “End of the Day.”

A bit of Bo Diddley crossed with the 13th Floor Elevators snaps “Hyperventilation” into shape. Rooted more in a groove, this nearly 10 ten minute track could have been a Spacemen 3 cover. Like much of this album’s second half, patience rewards the listener. While some editing might have quickened the pace, that is not Brian Jonestown Massacre’s intent. They make music to crash to, if not (I hope) for “sniffin’ glue” as the lyrics assert. But the clever album title holds up as a signal of its intent.

“Outback” hints at the East in its eerily processed guitar loops. Its four minutes shows the power of drones that BJM harnessed in the studio. This precedes the sluggish raga-rock distorted and elongated into repetitive patterns in “She’s Gone.” These two songs, which closed the original 1995 CD, reveal the band’s interest in textures, creating a sinuous overlay that highlights the band’s circa 1965 interests.

A bonus track added to the 2007 reissue continues this direction. “In India You” mingles percussion washes and plucked strings over Newcombe’s soft voice before guitars crash into the melancholy air. An unlisted track pays tribute to George Harrison’s lyrical concerns and vocal style as more Indian inspiration.

The final four songs on the expanded Methodrone chart the band’s Eastbound expedition from ‘60s London and postpunk heirs to neo-psychedelia. The band became more famous for Newcombe’s antics as seen in the 2004 documentary Dig!. But this early record attests to their songwriting craft and their love of the ‘60s. (Spectrum Culture 7-8-15).

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