The Brian Jonestown Massacre have released another album, “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?” The band, which for some of the current generation has come to emobody the sound, philosophy and drive of the substance-fueled psychedelic music of the 60’s more so than the music of that generation itself, has changed up their game.
The title of the album itself, to this author, is an obvious reference to their altered reasoning inherent within the album’s music. It is a reference to the death of “traditional psychedelic” (or maybe more accurately drug-music), that has followed with the switch to the glittering new style of the likes of MGMT, Animal Collective , a handful of DJs, and to a lesser extent Radiohead. It is no secret that hippies and rockin’ rollers alike have now accepted, and gladly assimilated with the world of electronica. To the extent that hippies rarely support traditional psychedelic-rock nowadays, the indie crowd has taken up that duty.
Upon reading the questioning title of the album, I thought BJM would then follow up with a form of tuneful psychedelia similar to that on their first 9 albums (or so), that being an awesome display of classic rockin’ roll psych. However, they did not do that at all (it should be noted that their previous album, My Bloody Underground, was a failed attempt at intense -garage-punk-metal something or other, which was also inconsistent with their traditional style, however, it was still a straight-up rock album). Here they have brought forward an album that instead says, “Sure, we’ll try this electronic, rave’ish stuff out; how about this?”
The first track, “Temop 116.7 (Reaching For Dangerous Levels of Sobriety),” emerges with a gleefully pounding beat, immediately one can tell this isn’t what one would reason it would be. The song has eastern undertones, yet has an electronic sound, which comes off as if it should be played at a rave. It, like many of the songs in this album, is without vocals. It closes out quietly and with class.
Then emerges the second track, an especially well named song, “The Heavy Knife.” It is both intense and heavy, unusual sounds wail in and out, it is unquestionably violent – yet somehow ready to party. It pounds with electronic syncopation. This song goes in tandem with its successor, “Let’s go Fucking Mental.” This song is pleasantly lo-fi, yet still electronic and large. The title of the song is aggressively repeated for most of the number, save on comical exception, in a way that lies on the line between anger and just a raucously good time. It’s a song not best understood in a sober mood, to be sure.
In fact there is a prevalence of anger within the album, yet I wouldn’t dare deem it an angry album. For indeed there are more genial sounds within this album then irritated ones, but the latter just seem to stick out more due to their unexpectedness.
Songs like the opening track or the later occurring “Detka! Detka! Detka!”, which is happy right off the bat and combines amiable sounds of Indian origin with raw instruments, in one of the albums only non-electric songs(it is, nonetheless, still an obvious dance number). Then there is maybe the album’s gem, “Super F*****”, a song with a formidable walking bass beat (almost hip-hop like), again with, yet no paired with wide acoustic guitars. It also has something else I was waiting for from BJM, a tambourine pleasantly holding the time throughout!
It seems they were at a their happiest when incorporating eastern influences, and at their most vexed when they fully dived into the electronic sound. However, there were a couple tracks that held to neither dictum, and are just plain experimental, at least for BJM.
They are at their most experimental and out of their box with songs like “This is The First of Your Last Warnings (Icelandic)”, a shockingly poppy song with atypical female vocalists, that indeed does sound highly European. It’s a great electrified jam-groove, and I couldn’t help but think, “this is what the Disco Biscuits should sound like.” Also, the second to last track, “Feel It,” is a thumping club song with little variation that just builds and builds with these fuzzy, euro-pop, hook-like vocals floating in the background. It’s weird, but, it’s undeniably good, especially if you feel like moving.
On the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s myspace page, under ‘Influences’, it simply reads “ACID.” Well, after listening to “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?” it is apparent to me they went to Europe and took some ecstasy along with their LSD to record this one. It’s an album that incorporates a lot of different new sounds for the group; it is also one of those where if you didn’t tell someone it was an album, one might believe your iTunes was on shuffle. It’s a comment on the psychedelic and drug-music realm, post the death of the classical rock style. Is it a dancing celebration of that death or a Mad-Max like view of the way things are headed? I think neither.
“Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?” is BJM confirming they can indeed enjoy, and also create some of their own of, the contemporary alteration of their beloved musical genre. And in doing so they created one of the best albums within their discography. However, the last song is a 10 min piece that splices a pleasurable and mellow grand piano soundscape with clips from interviews with John Lennon and others. It can be seen as saying, “Don’t be afraid people, it’s still us!”
Sean Poynton Brna