Safe money in the late 1990’s would never have bet that The Brian Jonestown Massacre would still exist or would be releasing new music in the 2010’s. The famously volatile band had massive skills and promise, but were almost jinxed when it came to catching their big break. No review of the band would be complete without mentioning the many years in the barren dessert the band spent fighting, excessively drugging and imploding on stage. A quick look at the documentary Dig tells you all you need to know about lead singer and principle catalyst Anton Newcombe and his band of not so merry men circa 1998. The documentary acts as an almost Public Service Announcement, demonstrating the bad outcomes of mixing manic depression with illicit drug use.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre formed in the 1990’s in San Francisco with the one constant in the chaotic band roster being Anton Newcombe. Newcombe is a legendary performer and songwriter. He was so prolific in the late 90’s that he was writing, producing two and three albums a year all while seriously abusing substances. In addition Anton has a wildly diverse range of instruments he can play. Buried under all the palaver of band havoc, there is this exceptionally gifted man, whose antics almost succeeded in making him radioactive to the music business. Thankfully by the dint of sheer genius and prolific musicianship, Anton and company have survived to become legendary. Newcombe coming to grips with his substance abuse and changes in the music business have made for a turnabout in the band’s fortunes. Earlier this year the release of their 14th album Revelation was heralded by many critics and long time fans as a welcome event. Revelation utilized numerous genres and fusions there of, it is an embarrassment of musical riches on one disc. The release of +-EP by BJM on November 10th is like dessert after the main course. The release is a vignette that leaves you wanting more. +-EP was produced in Newcombe’s Berlin home studio.
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To get The Brian Jonestown Massacre you need to shed preconceptions and accept them at face value, and go along with them to their destination. Newcombe is never going to be mainstream, nor would he want to be. Luckily he has a sustaining fan base and finally a way to get his product to them directly. The music world has ended up coming to him instead of his having to measuring up to their expectations.
There are only four songs on +-EP but all are a confection of distilled BJM goodness. The song Heat paints the vista of a road trip across the dessert with rippling heat waves rising above the sand. The song has a very psychedelic vibe and is classic BJM.
Everything is Very Simple is a mind-bending, pulled around song. Hypnotic with Anton speak singing the lyrics on overdubbed loops. The title tells you everything about the song, literally it has very simple elements and makes for this swirling almost dirge like song.
Reconstruction Is the best song on the release. A song that is seemingly autobiographical. It is a confessional tune that speaks to Newcombe’s reconstruction after the numerous meltdowns of the past. The song is gripping and has a steady beat with a heavy guitar vibe. The lyrics aptly describe Newcombe’s past difficulties, “It is the same thing day after day, till they kick you down; as they drag you away, give you some pills to clear your head.”
The final song on +-EP is Leave it Alone a slower tempo work. The song is an amalgam of rhythm and blues guitar, hypnotic psychedelica and altie rock flashes. Great guitar work and a great lyric” Take what you can, take what you need, and leave what is left” is the punctuation on a great tune. Ever the provocateur, Newcombe leaves you desiring more as he concocts his latest magic.
Anton Newcombe was the man most likely to have died back in the late 90’s from his excesses; instead he has ended up becoming the ultimate survivor. Cleaning up, moving to Berlin, marrying and having a son have all grounded him and allowed him to witness his ultimate musical vindication.
The band has never lent itself to being pigeon holed, nor to being bought off and amazingly the world has in the end become a friendlier place to a man and a band that despised the corporate music world. The ability for artists to go directly to their audience has given BJM the freedom to do what they always wanted, which was to bypass the industry they saw as false and take their music directly to the people. +-EP is a great entryway into the music of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Watch the documentary ‘Dig’ BELOW: