Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Methodrone

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Released 1995 on Bomp!
Reviewed by Robin Tripp, 24/06/2006ce

1. Evergreen (3:24)
2. Wisdom (5:20)
3. Crushed (6:08)
4. That Girl Suicide (3:41)
5. Wasted (4:21)
6. Everyone Says (4:15)
7. Short Wave (2:47)
8. She Made Me (4:42)
9. Hyperventilation (9:53)
10. Records (1:50)
11. I Love You (4:11)
12. The End of the Day (5:09)
13. Outback (4:07)
14. She's Gone (7:18)
15. Untitled (4:52)

Pitched somewhere between the genuinely progressive, psychedelic exploration of the 1960's freak generation, and the lo-fi drones of the late-80's shoegazers, Methodrone is a rich and startling achievement... an album that manages to flaunt it's various influences like little gold badges of honour, whilst simultaneously presenting its own unique and distinctive sound and remarkable vision. It's a world away from the more trippy psyche-influenced sound that would follow on albums like Their Satanic Majesties Second Request and the garage-rock inflected Take It From The Man!, with the band here instead fusing elements of Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Moby Grape, Love, and the Velvet Underground, with distinctive elements of Loop, Ride, Spacemen 3, the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

As a result, Methodrone essentially picks up where albums like Darklands, Isn't Anything and Nowhere left off... with The Brian Jonestown Massacre taking the influence of 60's chart pop and psychedelic rock, and drowning them beneath waves of heavenly feedback. On top of that, we have some fantastic percussion and those drifting vocals, which here sound like Mick Jagger impersonating Kevin Shields, as layers and layers of different guitar effects rise and fall like crashing waves all around us. Amidst this we have the bass locking into a heavy groove that lulls the listener into a dreamlike stupor, as the machine gun patter of the drums and a hint of female backing vocals merge with those of the BJM's shamanesque leader Anton Newcombe to create something that is both ethereal, dreamy and transcendent, whilst also managing to sound rough, raucous and defiantly anthemic.

The 15-tracks here are sublime throughout... capturing a mood that suggests the summer of love never eneded (take your pick between the hippie-bliss of 1967, or the acid house haze of 1989), as Newcombe's mumbled vocals radiate a sense of bliss that propels the lush and distorted musical backing beyond the realms of the transcendent and towards the kind of surreal buzzing epiphany that only Loveless (and the last fifteen minutes of Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey) could ever really approach. The album opens on a high with the intoxicating swirl of Evergreen, a fitting title that suggests just that - a lush green field, not a million miles away from the one featured on the front of the KLF's great Chill Out album - which captures a mood and a vibe that will permeate the album as a whole (drifting down through great tracks like Wisdom, Crushed, Wasted and Short Wave... to name but a few). There's really no standout here, with the whole album locking into something special; with the guitars switching mid-song from blissed out drones into bursts of angular feedback (bringing to mind a song like Ascension Day or Rainbow by the legendary British post-rock band Talk Talk), which is most prominent on the nine-minute-plus burst of Hyperventilation - which seems to want to try and cram in as many stylistic switches as it possible can - whilst simultaneously obliterating any similar moment of guitar bending freak-out attempted by the likes of Radiohead on albums like OK Computer and Hail to the Thief.

Methodrone (as the title suggests) is one of those albums (like Psychocandy and Loveless to name the most well-known) in which feedback is the key... with songs like Wisdom, Wasted, Hyperventilation and the short pure-noise interlude of Records all demonstrating the aesthetic of burying sublime melodies or complex instrumental arrangements under an avalanche of drones, delays and distortion. Some songs come close to the shambolic folk pop of the BJM's later album, Thank God for Mental Illness, but with the shifting sound of loose performance and that brazen feeling of an intimate jam-sessions stretching beyond the infinite and getting lost somewhat in the dense production and those lulled, free-wheeling and suitably elusive lyrical ruminations that drift out of the speakers in a vague and indecipherable bombardment of bending notes and ringing chord structures.

First experiences of Methodrone offer us an album that seems to float by in a haze of its own intoxication... drowning in its own feedback and pushing itself to breaking point like a bad acid flashback from hell. Its influences stand out a mile... but the more you play it, the more it's own individual identity begins to emerge, with great songs like Crushed, That Girl Suicide, the 60's influenced I Love You, the darker sound of End of the Day, the buzzing noise of the instrumental Outback and the sublime-dream pop of She's Gone all carving a path through the wall of sound and lingering for days after that first (illicit?) experience. The album comes to a close with an untitled piece of lush pop that recalls elements of American alternative rock like Sonic Youth and Pavement, as Newcombe intones the refrain "it's so sad..." (I think?) over a propulsive rhythm and a continually mutating and distorting lead guitar line.

Even after their appearance in the acclaimed 2004 rock-documentary DiG! (which Newcombe has subsequently criticised for focusing on hype and sensationalism alone), The Brain Jonestown Massacre remain a greatly underrated and undervalued band. Later albums, such as their 1996 trilogy of works; Their Satanic Majesties Second Request, Thank God for Mental Illness and Take it From the Man! might irk some listeners with their continual nods to 60's psyche-rock and shop-bought hippy ideologies, but regardless, they seem more authentic than a lot of other acts who nod to a style of music far removed from their particular own era. Newcombe is one of those performers who seems tarred with the brush of "maverick genius", when all he wants to be remembered for is creating great art... Methodrone is an early work, but one that shows great talent and a great sound, and is easily one of the most underrated rock albums of the 1990's.

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