The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Aufheben

written by: May 15, 2012
Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben album cover Release Date: May 1st, 2012

★★★½☆

Ineffable is the one word that springs to mind when listening to the lucky 13th album from The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Indescribable is another good one. But, it’s certainly worthy of an attempt.

For the uninitiated, much has been made (too much, according to a number of parties, most vociferously the bands themselves) of the rivalry between this group and fellow 60’s inspired punsters, The Dandy Warhols. Such was this “rivalry” that it was either documented or blown out of proportion in a film documentary entitled “Dig.” The fact that both acts have new records released rapidly on the heels of each other will no doubt reinvigorate the notion of such a rivalry and will beg for the “side by side” treatment in major music periodicals, doing justice to neither, as is so often the case. To be fair, there is a certain sonic similarity to their musical aesthetics, but, aside from using the music of the 60’s as a launching pad and inspiration, their new records could not be more disparate.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre are embracing the drone and the somnambulant psychedelia of their predecessors The Pink Floyd, whereas The Dandy Warhols have assumed a much more organic and “stripped down” sound on their new album This Machine.

Aufheben begs a complete titular analysis, especially given that the title of the record is based on a German word that means both to abolish and preserve, and the philosopher Hegel used this verb as a term to define what happened when a thesis and an anti-thesis came together. In Hegel’s philosophy, these two seemingly contradictory positions would come together in something that was neither entirely new, nor were the positions exactly the same as they had been before. In other words, or in one word, Aufheben is a contradiction within itself and a new evolution of thought that develops when two contradictory concepts collide.

Aufheben well lives up to its name, and was unsurprisingly recorded in Germany at a radio station and at bandleader Anton Newcombe’s home studio. It begins with the instrumental (although almost all of the tracks might as well be instrumental unless you know French and Finnish and can make out the rare English buried deep in the layers of effects) “Panic In Babylon,” which imagines a psychedelic snake charmer’s nightmare– perhaps this casbah is not being rocked, but being invaded by a serious of snake-eating mongooses (or as Newcombe would probably call them, Herpestidae). It ends with a journey into jungle sounds, as if the Babylonic gardens were opened up to a descent into a heart of darkness.

“Viholliseni Maalla” may or may not be sung in Finnish, but instrumentally it sounds more like Echo & The Bunnymen meet REM than what the introductory cut leads one to expect, and surely that is the point. “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand” sounds like an overly medicated Jason Pierce of Spiritualized (whose Will Carruthers is in this line-up of the Massacre) doing a cover of The Band, whereas “Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe” borrows significantly not from Led Zeppelin but from The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black” a tired trope if ever there was one.

With its repetitive Mercury Rev-like flute-loop, “Waking Up To Hand Grenades” had the effect of actually inducing nausea and somehow sounded like Guided By Voices performing with Black Moth Super Rainbow. Conversely, “Face Down On The Moon” uses a sitar-bed and floats a lovely jazzy flute solo over the top of it that fades into the distance amidst so many tubular bell windchimes. They assume their most Pink Floyd-like morph on The Cloulds Are Lies” [sic] but the message of the sweetly lilting lyrics is more menacing than would seem on their surface: “Someday we can pretend, that dreams will help us be friends, and where dreams go, real friends still know, somehow, there are still friends.” A Cure-like guitar part meditates on the inherent sadness of this sentiment, despite the instrumental beauty with which the message is conveyed.

If you introduced a synthesizer playing strings and a hive of drunken bees, you would have something sounding like “Blue Order/New Monday,” which disappointingly only vaguely resembles its titular inspiration in beat and with a vague echo of notes. It’s as if Dali were painting a picture of what he saw when listening to “Blue Monday,” as opposed to the violent realistic modernism of the New Order music video directed by canine auteur William Wegman and animator Robert Breer.

In short then, Aufheben is what it says it will be– a contradiction in one term. This is music that first defies expectations, then confounds whatever preconceptions are developed throughout. It’s a roller coaster ride at turns pleasant and nightmarish, or an exhilarating ride across tumultuous waves, or perhaps like dating someone with multiple personalities; the listener never knows what to expect from track to track, even after repeated spins it’s easy to find that Aufheben keeps spitting out secrets both horrifying and sublime.

Watch The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Illuminomi” made with bits out of legendary director Kenneth Anger’s 1964 film “Scorpio’s Rising” on the Daily Psychedelic Video here:  http://dailypsychedelicvideo.com/2011/10/13/brian-jonestown-massacre-illuminomi/

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Aufheben tracklist:

  1. “Panic in Babylon”
  2. “Viholliseni Maalla”
  3. “Gaz Hilarant”
  4. “Illuminomi”
  5. “I Want to Hold Your Other Hand”
  6. “Face Down on the Moon”
  7. “Clouds Are Lies”
  8. “Stairway to the Best Party”
  9. “Seven Kinds of Wonderful”
  10. “Waking Up to Hand Grenades”
  11. “Blue Order New Monday”