The 14th Brian Jonestown Massacre album, Revelation – the first to be recorded in their new Berlin, Germany recording studio – is a jangly psych-rock affair glazed in a frosty shoegazing chill. Although a terribly bland title, the new album is spirited with BJM’s gloomy, then bright psychedelic haze.
The band’s one constant – singer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe – is a survivor of documented drug addiction (the rock documentary Dig!) and rumored alienation. He has produced an album with an almost paranoiac tone yet with a glint of light, of hope, creeping through the window of his safe European home. He has relocated to Berlin and is now a husband, father of a young son, and record producer. Word is, he’s on the mend.
BMJ have always been conspiracy-minded with a reckless enthusiasm for all things dark and dangerous. What more can you expect from a band name that is a combination of tragic Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, and the mass suicide (or was it murder?) of hundreds of members of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. On Revelation, an adult maturity has seized and anchored Newcombe. Maybe a revelation dawned on him that being alive is better than being dead. “You’ve got to wake up and be a man, and know the plan” he sings on “What You Isn’t”, a song bristling with angry confidence and backed by a white-knuckled organ and American Indian tom-toms.
The album is chock-full of Newcombe’s music influences. He raises his glass to Robert Smith and The Cure on the ska-tinged “Food for Clouds”. He channels The Man Who Sold The World-era David Bowie on the whimsically lovelorn “Unknown”. “Memorymix” impossibly blends The Beatles’ repeating “Sgt. Pepper’s…” (title track) guitar riff with ’90s electronica and club land dub. It’s the most experimental song here even while constrained to a classic dance groove.
Newcombe never sounded so at peace with himself as he does on “Nightbird”, a soulful “waking up alone” ballad with a modest string arrangement accompanying an acoustic guitar and killer melody. Throughout the album, jangly Byrds-era guitar and customary drum beats that break in at perfect intervals add a sunny splash to the moody atmospherics.
Revelation gets darker and deeper on repeated listens. On first take, the instrumental “Duck and Cover” seems only filler. On further listens, the whistling keyboards, like a perfectly cued air raid siren, paint a drone-filled sky governing the continents. It’s food for thought from an artist not quite ready to abandon his inner rebel.
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