Ok, this is tough stuff. The tenth studio album from San Francisco’s the Brian Jonestown Massacre is a swirling psychedelic phantasmagoria. The band, best known to most people via their controversial portrayal in the rockumentary DiG!, certainly has its detractors. Most of the venom is directed at the band’s somewhat bizarre architect, Anton Newcombe. The BJM has had literally dozens of members over the course of its 15 year existence, and has spun off bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Warlocks, The Raveonettes, and the Black Angels. The one constant, through all the insanity, has been Newcombe. Who Killed Sgt. Pepper will do nothing to heal the division between the believers and the skeptics.
The key element in this music is the drone. It is created by setting fuzzed out guitars and synthesized textures atop drum loops. Once the drone is in place, vocal elements are added. They are often incomprehensible. Maybe that’s because the vocalist is Icelandic. The strange, and I do mean strange, thing is that all of this adds up to something that I find pretty damn compelling. What that is I have no idea, but the more I listened to this album the more it drew me into its deep, dense, dark places. The tender ballad “Let’s Go Fucking Mental” may give you some idea of what this is all about.
Sometimes the audio collage coalesces into something quite moving. The album’s final track, “Felt Tipped Pictures of Ufo’s,” uses a recording of John Lennon from when he was forced to explain his comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. His remarks end with Lennon saying, ” and now it’s all this.” Following Lennon, a very cheeky Liverpudlian woman spends nearly ten minutes tearing Lennon a new one. She sees him as a phony. Throughout her tirade, we hear Lennon repeating “and now it’s all this.” Eventually, the “this” he’s talking about takes on another meaning entirely. My explanation probably sucks, and the track is too long to post, but trust me, it becomes quite poignant.
Who Killed Sgt. Pepper marks the return of guitarist and vocalist Matt Hollywood who co-founded the band, and co-wrote some of the material on the early BJM albums. Also on board is bassist Will Carruthers of the legendary band Spaceman 3. I won’t pretend to know much about what they’re up to here, but if you’re willing to take a chance on something new, something, dare I say, innovative, you might want to give Who Killed Sgt. Pepper a try.
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