In their 22 years Brian Jonestown Massacre have been through some well-publicised and much-discussed rough times. It’s fair to say they’re better known for their temperamental nature and the often erratic behaviour of their front man Anton Newcombe than they are their music. But the unfortunate by-product of that notoriety is that it means that the artists involved don’t receive the credit that their sheer ability deserves.
Although the band has an ever-changing line up, the one constant, besides Newcombe himself, is his fellow founding member and collaborative songwriter Matt Hollywood. Hollywood’s patience – surely akin to a saint’s – has not been tested in recent years. If we are to believe what we read, Anton has been sober for some time.
By and large this does not affect Aufheben. The massive influence of psychedelia and shoegaze means Brian Jonestown Massacre continue to draw comparisons to The Velvet Underground and revivalist Madchester bands, with more accuracy than any of their contemporaries. It also means Aufheben is more of the same; not quite of the high standard the band are capable of at their best (Methadrone, Thank God for Mental Illness), but as enjoyable as they’ve ever been.
What’s really impressive about Aufheben and Brian Jonestown Massacre as a whole is the level of intelligence Newcombe continues to emit as the man in control. Popular legend and the odd radio interview tells us he has his issues, but dig a little deeper into fan databases and you find that when clarity strikes, the guy’s incredibly tuned-in and committed to his trade, even enviably so. On Aufheben this translates into tracks like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Waking Up to the Hand Grenade’, which cling to a drone composition with stalwart enthusiasm.
The downside to Anton’s focus is a tendency for tracks to blend and congeal. Hippified, yoga-like characteristics hit ‘Face Down on the Moon’ and ‘Panic in Babylon’ square in the face, their painful and quaint excursions into paganhood and incense undoubtedly making for uncomfortable listening for lovers of modern music.
There is no denying that Aufheben covers familiar ground, and if you’ve already tried, tested and disliked Brian Jonestown Massacre for what they do, this album certainly won’t change your mind. However, if you’ve avoided the band because of presumptions based on testament of character, use Aufheben to reconsider. You may find a record to love here.