Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride
Hawking his peculiarly trippy vision like a carnival barker against a
shambolic shuffle of twanging guitars and slapped tambourines, Anton
Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre opens Tepid Peppermint
Wonderland with a manifesto. "You know a lot of people are afraid of the unknown," he says. "... but we know that you're the sort of
thrill-seeker that's not afraid of anything... and you will be richly
rewarded for your courageousness... so come on in, here we go again."
That track, originally from 1996's Their Satanic Majesties Satanic
Request, kicks off the two-disc retrospective in style. Infectious,
bubbling with drug-enhanced good feelings, laced together with sinewy,
looping guitar lines, the track references the freest, most celebratory
aspects of the 1960s. It and the 37 others that follow it flip a
sardonic peace sign at the critical maelstrom recently surrounding BJM,
particularly with the release of "Dig!" in 2004. The film, which documents
the divergent career paths of BJM and the Dandy Warhols, won Sundance's Grand
Jury Prize for Best Documentary in 2004. For a time the two groups were friends,
but the friendship soured and they became enemies when the Dandy Warhols signed
to a major, Capitol, while BJM continued to record for indie labels.
"Dig!", showcasing the volatile Newcombe's troubles with drugs and
interpersonal relationships, documents a self-destructive
streak. Indeed, the history of BJM is littered with squabbles and
defections the band has had more than 40 members over its 10 years.
Yet what "Dig!" fails to account for is the music, which is mesmerizing, and after all, the whole point. Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, Newcombe said in a recent email interview, was not meant as a swan song, but rather to remind people what BJM is all about. "No, we're not finished, not just yet anyway," he wrote, adding, "We decided that it would be a good idea to exploit any attention that comes our way from the film, Sundance and the DVD. It seemed fair."
The retrospective collects tracks from throughout BJM's history, including their
debut,1995's Methadrone, and some previously unreleased cuts recorded
for a WFMU live session in 2002. Newcombe says that Tee Pee Records, which released
the album, did all the track selection. The non-chronological sequencing is particularly
effective, connecting songs
with different band members. Excellent, extensive liner notes include an essay
by The New York Post's Mary Huhn, as well as track-by-track commentary
from BJM alumni Rob Campanella, Christopher Tucker, Brian Glaze, Matt Hollywood
and Newcombe himself.
One of the astonishing things about Tepid Peppermint Wonderland is how naturally early cuts sit next to new ones. The excellent, previously unheard "Nailing Honey to the Bee," for instance, has the same loopy, droning dreaminess as "That Girl Suicide," recorded nearly 10 years earlier.
Disc one sets the epic, hotly contested 2001 single "If Love Is the Drug" (Christopher Tucker maintains that the song was based on Dandy Warhols' "Minnesota") right up against the shambling glory of 1996's "It Girl."
Asked to define what he feels is consistent in his work with BJM, Newcombe said, "I just work for the suspension of disbelief, follow my heart and work in a medium." He added, "I'm glad you asked though, I really wish more artists had their own voice or vision, you know? On second thought, [if they don't] they are not artists at all. They might as well be making widgets or something. It will break your heart if you let it, so let's move on now, shall we?"
Newcombe's love of 1960s music percolates through every track. He says the period attracts him with its "open mindedness, freedom, experimentation, soul, force of will, imagination, sexiness..." Or, he adds, "Maybe it was the drugs. I don't know. I love love, and I love a mystery. Leave it alone."
The influences he names can be heard in his work, which filters psychedelic excesses of Hendrix through the postmodern drone of Kevin Shields and Sonic Youth. Still, beyond getting him to pin down a few favorite guitar players, it's difficult to get him to expound much. "I like to make music and listen to music, not talk about it," he said, adding as an afterthought, "I don't use effects at all so that should tell you something. I value honesty very much."
Newcombe says that there's plenty more where Tepid Peppermint
Wonderland came from, with an estimated 100 to 300 unreleased songs
currently in the vault. The band is working on We Are the Radio, its ninth full-length album, due out this year. Jennifer Kelly [Wednesday, April 6, 2005]