The Brian Jonestown Massacre release a good album in Don’t Get Lost, but is good ‘good enough’?
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, long-running brainchild of frontman, Anton Newcombe, can be taken on many different levels but one has to appreciate the sheer numbers Newcombe has amassed in his career. Well over forty different members have claimed allegiance in one iteration of the band or more. Nearly thirty releases including three full-length albums in 1996 alone that proved to be seminal to the band’s legacy have seen distribution. Signed to at least five different labels. Calling multiple continents home base. And at least three complete reinventions of both structure and sound that has seen the band given extended leases on life, sustaining the San Francisco natives for over two decades.
With Don’t Get Lost one has to ask, how many times can you reinvent the wheel?
Originating in the halcyon early-nineties with a heart-on-sleeve send up of British shoegazer in their debut, Methadrone, the BJM evolved to a neo-psychedelic rock act for its most defining era with such classics as Take it from the Man, Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request, and Give it Back- all recorded in less than thirty days. After a downward spiral went even deeper, Anton resurfaced in another Lazarus act after staking new roots in Iceland and adopting a more mature post-industrial electronic influence. Going so far as to record several tracks in recent outings completely in Icelandic, Newcombe has never been encumbered by the dictates of the market.
Opening on the catchy, if not redundant, “Open Minds Now Close” it is not hard to misplace this most recent release with any number of the accomplished scores that litter Newcombe’s latter efforts. Perhaps what is most tragic is that Newcombe, and for that matter the rest of the Massacre, are solely a band in the first place. The compositions and arrangements Newcombe has advanced to over his career are squandered in the guise of a “rock act”. To take nothing away from what the BJM have accomplished over the years, Newcombe is on a level comparable to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, if only through a West Coast blue collar lens.
Short of that realization tracks like “Open Minds Now Close” and “Melodie’s Actual Echo Chamber”, while meditative and dripping with an affected day-glo noir, lack any real resonance of their own- with “Acid to me is no Worse Than War” being completely forgettable. Too much of Don’t Get Lost does exactly that. It lacks any real identity; a hallmark for so much of BJM’s early works. They are by no means substandard, they’re simply insubstantial.
Deceptively apart is “One Slow Breath”, an understated yet immersive spiritual contemplation and the jazzy uncharacteristic “Geldenes Herz Menz”. Unlike the top half of the album’s instrumentals “UFO Paycheck” sees a much more ambitious arrangement and an absolutely danceable beat.
“Resist Much, Obey Little” is the Ideal Form of a modern BJM song. Seasoned from the influences that their band has adopted over the years, their approach here is balanced and structurally-tight; something for which Newcombe’s well-warranted indulgences do not always allow. The equally skuzzy-smooth “Groove is in the Heart” with its slow and steady female lead of “no time for bullshit, I’ve been getting things done…” and needling guitar solo is a direct sequel to one of their most intentionally “cool” songs, “Anemone”; perhaps besting it here.
BJM has always drunk from the same quasi-mystical drug laced rivers contemporaries like The Jesus Mary Chain, Sonic Youth and both of avowed shaman Genesis P’orridge’s bands Psychic T.V. and Throbbing Gristle had before them. The latter of which is afforded its own same-titled track on Don’t Get Lost that portrays an open-faced homage but plays more as a forgettable echo.
BJM works better honoring the progression of their own band’s legacy rather than mirroring the influences that brought them to the stage so many years removed. To that point, “Fact 67” is incredibly impressive. Blending the various influences that molded the band’s sound over the years into a new and singular expression. Here Newcombe creates new a lifeline for what one can expect from a BJM track.
Like the gifted kid in the back of a remedial class, for much of the album Newcombe sounds as if he is not being challenged to the capacity of his proven gifts. Peppered throughout is scattered evidence to the contrary in such gems as “Groove is in the Heart”, “Fact 67”, and “Geldenes Herz Menz” but they are weighed down by the rest of Don’t Get Lost’s safe mediocrity.