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Music Review: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?

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During its two-decade run, founding member Anton Newcombe has been the one constant in the ever-shuffling lineup of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band's twelfth album Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? sees the return of founding bassist Matt Hollywood who left the band in 1999 after an onstage altercation, which was captured in the 2004 documentary DiG!

"Tempo 116.7 (Reaching For Dangerous Levels Of Sobriety)" opens the album. It is a good atmospheric piece as what sounds like a tabla plays over programmed loops that have a Middle Eastern rhythm. During the second half of the song, someone blurts out something slightly unintelligible, sounding something like "unless you don't give a fuck to be free." It ruins the comfortable mood, which may be its intention, but the purpose is unclear.

In marked contrast, "Tunger Hnifur" comes thundering in with a fuzzed-out guitar and affected vocals. Drummer Dan Allaire pounds away during the chorus, smashing the cymbals and obliterating the words. Between the two songs, I yearn for more like this.

Noise builds up and "fuck" is shouted out. "Lets Go Fucking Mental" is a call to arms over distorted-sounding arrangement to lose yourself in the celebration, but with the title repeated over and over so often, it comes off like a desperate bit of rebellion. Dropping the F-word so many times doesn't accomplish much when you are over 17.

"White Music" is more of a sound collage with an unclear speaker talking underneath the noise but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, although I wasn't using headphones or drugs at the time I listened, which seem to be who the piece is geared towards.

"This Is the First of Your Last Warnings" (Icelandic version) has a sweet funk groove laid down as a Bjork-sounding woman sings along, but the vocals are again slightly buried in the mix so I can't figure out if I can't understand her or she's singing in another language.

If there were hints of post-punk and '80s alternative before, "This Is The One Thing We Did Not Want To Have Happen" completely embraces Joy Division. "The One" follows with keyboards that bring to mind New Order and Depeche Mode. Guitars also come to the forefront, making for a wonderful audio collision, but the vocals are buried so deep in the mix it makes you wonder what was the point of including them. Comes across like a mistake by the engineer. "Someplace Else Unknown" comes across as a latter-period Love and Rockets track with its rock sounds over programming.

One of the few times we get clear vocals and it's on their version of a European dance club song in "Dekta! Dekta! Dekta!" "Super Fucked" and "Our Time" are both rather forgettable as they drone on in different ways. "Feel It" is repetitive as well but the music is more engaging and dynamic.

The album closes with "Felt Tipped-Pen Pictures Of UFOs," another audio collage filled with keyboards/organs. Underneath the music John Lennon's press conference after his "Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ" comment is heard. Some gal rambling idiotically about the band follows that. Not sure if it's a put-on mocking "Revolution 9" but regardless it's a terrible mess and a poor way to close the album.

Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? is better on ideas than execution. It has some very good songs that I would put on a mixtape, but I don't see ever putting on the entire album because the music and moods clash so much. I recommend checking out individual songs to see what appeals to you.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/antonfjordson anton alfred newcombe

    i never met or even ever heard of one child that dreamed of becoming a critic…

    think about that for awhile sometime.

  • zingzing

    never met a kid who wanted to be an drugged-out asshole either. yet we have plenty of those already.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Interesting. What would your comment have been if I didn’t like any of the songs?

    assuming for the sake of argument that this is “anton” if you didn’t want a critic reviewing it you should have told the PR company and the music label not to offer it.

  • D

    Thank God someone out there still makes music on their own terms – then i know where to direct my pain when the Radiohead stops playing.

  • Jordan Richardson

    i never met or even ever heard of one child that dreamed of becoming a critic…

    You’ve never met a child who had a desire to express his or her opinion in a meaningful, articulate fashion?

    That’s kind of tragic.

  • d

    Also, music plays in STEREO, nowadays. No seriously, different sounds can come out of each speaker. Like on that first track, where its obvious to anyone familiar with this revolutionary “stereo” idea, that there is two tabla-like hand drum, unprocessed and clean, in each speaker.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/antonfjordson anton alfred newcombe

    zing-zing…you are a fucking square…

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/antonfjordson anton alfred newcombe

    ell bicho – your myopic ignorance should not be reproduced…and that in a nutshell is why abortion is leagal and the internet should have rules.

    however it is impressive the blogs that 3rd graders are making these days.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/antonfjordson anton alfred newcombe

    “This writer is a member of The Masked Movie Snobs, a collective that fights a never-ending battle against bad entertainment.”

    SAYS IT ALL!

    you have a massive ego about your agenda…

  • zingzing

    and if you are who you claim to be and not just some trolling little kid, then you’re an idiot. (and you’ve gotten back on the drugs again, haven’t you?) you’re just some little shit looking for attention either way.

    “a fucking square?” who says that anymore?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Well, Anton, I don’t intend to reproduce, which will no doubt illicit a sigh of relief from many. But I can’t guarantee a former lady friend won’t ask the producers of “Maury” to reach out to me, if you know what I am saying.

    “however it is impressive the blogs that 3rd graders are making these days.”

    is that where you had to go to find someone who liked the entire album?

    “you have a massive ego about your agenda”

    I blame the hyperbole on growing up reading Marvel Comics. Stan Lee was quite a boaster. And what do your comments here attacking someone who liked some of your music say about the size of your ego?

    “‘a fucking square?’ who says that anymore?”

    Yeah. Everyone knows the proper lingo is L7, daddy-o.

  • ptl339

    I like the album. But let’s review the review: it opens with the stock line – “Anton Newcombe has been the one constant in the ever-shuffling lineup”. This would be brilliant except for the use of “ever-shuffling.” I mean, couldn’t you have used the phrase ever-rotating, constantly-shifting, or how about revolving-door? It’s next sentence is reminiscent of – oh I don’t know – the million other reviews that mention the fight in DIG and Matt Hollywood’s return (someone’s been doing a little googling). Then, finally, after the two sentences I’ve read in every other review are over, we shift into the predictable song-by-song review format. The first song’s review deftly mentions how the first song – “opens the album,” – but we soon find the author struggling with his grammar while simultaneously trying to show his limited musical knowledge. The second song review opens with the unfortunate line “In marked contrast” and ends with the equally unfortunate “I yearn for more like this.” The review of “Let’s Go Fucking Mental” suffers from the author’s confusion over whether to say the word “fuck” or call it the “f-bomb.” “White Music” assaults us with awful passive voice grammar, too much use of the word “seem” and the snobbish “I wasn’t on drugs so I guess I don’t get it” reference. This is not original kids. Just say no to this line. The rest of the review lacks any dynamics. Overall it is monotone, amateur, and I can’t dance to it. One more thing, the phrase “sweet funk groove” should be banned from any review written after 1979.

  • http://marvel.com/universe/Dead_Girl Dead (geek) Girl

    El Bicho slapped! Who whines to a critic for being honest in a review? That’s so punk – not! “This Is the First of Your Last Warnings” Yeah, right. Grow a pair.

    What I read is that you need a better mix on the vocals, that’s hardly off-putting to anyone who has ever been overcome by the pure power (despite the poor recording quality) of Misfits’ ‘Angelfuck’ (like me). I almost picked this up because it sounded like the kind of raw, homegrown punk that I love–and I’m partial to the name 😉 My first dead crush *sigh* Then I read the comments. Re-thinking that now.

    I’ve never known El Bicho to write an unfair review. You’d do well to take the criticism constructively, because it was technical. It should help you improve the quality of your recording.

    But overall, musically, it sounds like you hit your target.
    El Bicho wrote, “Tunger Hnifur” comes thundering in with a fuzzed-out guitar and affected vocals. Drummer Dan Allaire pounds away during the chorus, smashing the cymbals and obliterating the words. […] I yearn for more like this.” I’d pull that for a review quote. Any hardcore band would drool for a quote like that.

    Malcolm X said ‘If you have no criticism, you’ll have no success.” How can you ever grow if you only listen to the praise of your fans? It might piss you off, but it could just as well be the catalyst that leads you to greatness. Never listen to the words of your fans, listen to your critics and pull from their words what you think is valid–then chuck it all! and go improve upon what you agree is a weakness. “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill Go now– heal thyself.

    ptl339 – that was just dumb. Please… tell me you can do better. It wasn’t brilliant enough to be scathing and it wasn’t witty enough to be insulting. I value good snark. El Bicho does as well. Hell, we all do. You’re going to have to crank it up a notch intellectually to have an impact here.

    ~El Bicho, when my book finally gets published you’re not allowed to review it 😉
    Just sayin’

  • Jordan Richardson

    This whole thing reminds me of the time I got an email from “Josey Scott” from “Saliva” telling me off for trashing “his band’s” latest record. Fun times.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    DGG, I appreciate the defense. While I absolutely agree with ptl about the overuse of “seems” and can’t believe I let it slip by, and also I get that I may not be his cup of tea, the rest of his critique is written worse then what he alleges me of. He’s a fan too locked into his own mindset and can’t see beyond himself.

    But at least he “liked” the new album which I could have sworn I did in parts.

  • zingzing

    this whole exchange has actually gotten me more interested in the album than i would have been. i’ve actually bought a couple of bjm albums, but never heard one, because they’ve been stolen off me every time. strange thing. (i’ve heard the band, of course, but never actually owned an album, at least for long enough to hear it.) but i like dirty punk dance music, and that’s what this sounds like, in a way. so i might actually get it. but since the guy’s such a douche, i might just illegally download it. revenge!

  • D

    D here again, wet me wemind yoo, STEWEO. That’s “stereo” in big-boy language. No I’m not Antons friend, but i make music too and, for those of us who put our heart in it (Arcade fire and Shearwater don’t count either, sowwy)we know the garden needs serious weeding.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    D, what are you on about?
    Are you’ve saying you’ve got weed in your stereo?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    Jordan, that made me laugh so hard that I snorted coffee out of my nose. Thanks.

    That’s great! You have to print that and hang it on your ‘I love me’ wall right next to your commendations. Lucky you.

  • BoweryBilly

    Great Album.

  • BoweryBilly

    Check out the trailer of Boardwalk Empire.
    A1920’s gangster HBO series …They use BJM music ….it really works beautifully !

  • Greg Barbrick

    I always thought BJM were pretentious stoners, and never really bothered with them. But this exchange is killing me.

    It makes me want to grow up and be a rock critic.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wow, looks like I showed up way too late to this particular party…LOL.

    Assuming this guy really is who he says he is, I find it interesting that he also left a comment on one of my reviews about a week ago (it was either EPMD or Eazy E, can’t remember which…). Anyway, maybe if this guy paid the same sort of attention to the quality of his own music that he does bashing music writers on a website, he’d make better records. Sorry man, but we can’t all aspire to the mighty standards of ::cough:: Pitchfork…

    Anyway, where is Kenny G’s assistant when we so desperately need his voice in the mix?

    -Glen

  • Greg Barbrick

    Good Lord! Anton, please by all means use your psuedonym of ptl339 to comment on my review of Brangelina. I have never been so entertained in my life!

    –Greg

  • http://www.wdeandesign.com Nick Sophinos

    I dunno, I really like the CD. I suppose that it is tough to separate out the objective critique from that of the critic’s personal impressions of a piece.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I only offered a subjective critique. Good thing you liked the whole thing. Wouldn’t want to upset anyone by only liking a portion of it