REVIEW: The Brian Jonestown Massacre (Self-titled album)

Today, following a recommendation from a friend, a teenager sits in her room, searching for The Brian Jonestown Massacre on Spotify. “18 studio albums?!” she cries! “And that’s without the EPs! Where is one to begin?!” BJM are one of those bands that would now be a daunting (but thrilling) discovery. Their latest, self-titled, album has been released just months following their last release; Anton and co churn out albums almost as consistently as Anton’s predictably inconsistent behaviour…

The album opens with ‘Drained’. It’s bold, energetic and unforgiving and it gets all up in your face from the get go. I’m ready for this! It’s dark and beautiful. Anton sings ‘your love is making me ill’ over jangly guitar, which is a nice contrast. The song then moves into a shoegazey instrumental. As quick as that starts, it’s finished, and Anton’s back to singing about losing hope. It’s a very strong opening track.

‘Tombes Oubliées’. Ohh! It begins with the usual BJM shimmy of tambourine and raw guitar. The drums kick in. It’s got a presence and you know it sounds great already. But nothing prepared me for how incredible it gets. The song drifts into Rike Bienert’s whispering French vocals, her voice dreamy and mesmerising. She sounds like opiates. It’s somewhere among shoegaze and psych. This is them at one of their many bests.

‘Tombes Oubliées’ is the French version of another track which Anton sings on, called ‘Forgotten Graves’. (‘Forgotten Graves’ was released as a single, with ‘Tombes Oubliées’ as the B-Side). Both versions are brilliant, but I have to say…Bienert sings it better. As much as I love Anton’s voice, ‘Cannot be Saved’ gets really good every time he’s not singing. It gives a chance for the pretty guitars to seep in and they give more meaning to the song than the lyrics do. Part of me thinks his vocals don’t add much. But maybe it needs to be that way for the listener to really appreciate the rest of the song.

Eighteen albums in and they decide to make it self-titled. That feels significant. Previously, BJM have unapologetically channelled their inner Bowie and Stones (not to mention their inner Dandys…) while this album sounds like pure BJM.

Take the track ‘My Mind is Filled with Stuff’. It’s their core sound and the basic BJM recipe. The lyric-less song chugs along yet when you listen closely you can hear the nuanced shifts. They make the simplest chord progression sound amazing. BJM have this sound, that when they come on in a club you instantly know it’s them, but it takes a good few moments to figure out which song it is.

Another stand-out track on the album is ‘A Word’. The guitars give as much attitude as Anton. I love it when he wavers, ‘my love goes up, my love goes down’. I can’t seem to get that line out of my head.

The rest of the album is a little bit bluesy, and a little bit perky, with some monotone vocals thrown in. With the exception of ‘We Never Had a Chance’, which is a step down in pace and has more maturity.

At 38 minutes, it’s another short listen, but it packs a punch. As a BJM fan (albeit I’ve been out of the loop for a while) I was excited about the new album. Overall, it’s  fantastic, but it’s not their best; although their mammoth back catalogue means it’s inevitable there are going to be some let downs in there. There isn’t a terrible track on the album and every song is listenable. I’ll definitely be revisiting it, but I’ll probably focus my ears on the first two incredible songs.

Words by Kim Fernley. 

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