I never really appreciated the whole ‘destruction as a form of creation theory in actual practice. I know it’s certainly a fun extract to drop into an aspirant conversation between two nincompoops who are discussing the finer points of the Liars’ discography or some shit, but like most philosophical adages crammed into a single phrase, it falls woefully short of anything substantial in the least.

I have, however, found a practical outlet for this by and large totally abstract notion, and that’s applying it directly to the Brian Jonestown Massacre. In other words, to really create something meaningful out of their music, one must first destroy them.

I gladly did this. I happen to be in a unique position when it comes to the BJM. Two years ago, when a separate publication asked all of us writers to name the best album of 2008, I went ahead and chose ‘My Bloody Underground’, BJM’s studio release for that year. Not only that, but I profiled that record for another magazine, and again I extolled piles of (totally undeserved, probably) praise on that same effort. When I sent the two links to front man Anton Newcombe’s MySpace account, I got this response:

get a life you fucking philistine

I don’t have the exact definition of ‘microcosm’ around at this moment, but this has to be a prototypically perfect example of the word. Here I was, a music journalist, one of the few who actually appreciated this widely panned piece of shit album of his, even naming it above all other efforts for the year of 2008, and Anton is upset by the fact I referred to him as a jerk or something in the profile. Roughly twelve paragraphs of approbation, and the shithead focuses on the three sentences when I basically said he’s not such a nice person.

Anton Newcombe: a messiah and victim complex all rolled into one. What a peach.

Unfortunately, all of this really still leaves me in the same, sad place: a Brian Jonestown Massacre fan. This is a position that leaves all of us vigorously trying to avoid one nagging thought we can push away, but never truly escape:

You love the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but have they ever loved you back?
Of course the answer is a resounding “Fuck no” and it’s my recent acceptance and subsequent embrace of this natural progression of inescapable logic that have led me to my most recent epiphany regarding the BJM.

See, everything they put out is a direct product of whatever fragile psyche state Anton seems to be in at that particular time. The fan-base is never even a vague afterthought when it comes to the recording process, and to be honest, I think it’s high time the BJM is commended for this instead of being thrown to the wolves every time they put something else out (roughly between the 17th and 20th of every second month or so). This is why I grew to love ‘My Bloody Underground’....I couldn’t remember any album past or present that was such a genuine reflection of the mind behind it. It was an ugly, gross, wildly uneven album that was the aural equivalent of Anton being melted into a vat and pressed into vinyl.

Still though, this approach has all but assured that much of the material released on studio albums is a vortex of artistic incompetence. Saying the ambition outstretched the actual talent is probably being too kind....saying crack is a hell of a drug seems more in line with their musical odyssey.
So, now we’re in a position to be proactive about this. A masterpiece from the Brian Jonestown Massacre will be created....just not by Anton and co.
Nope, I’ve created it.

On behalf of all those other poor souls out there who fashion themselves BJM fans, I had an epiphany. When the group is looked at from a standard analytical viewpoint, i.e. from album to album, there certainly are an abundance of highlights, but also entirely too many missteps. From this I realized the BJM might just be the purest example of a band that should be compressed onto a single mix CD we have.

I have embraced this concept, and taken it all the way to paydirt. Ladies and gentlemen, I have constructed the finest and most comprehensive BJM mix I think is humanly possible. The seventeen songs clock in just under 80 minutes, so perfect length for any standard CD-R format. I guess this makes me a true Brian Jonestown Massacre fan, as this is truly the most effective way to appreciate the highlights of their incredibly sparse output and completely eliminate all the colossal goatfucks each LP is riddled with (primo example of this would have to be ‘Let’s Go Fucking Mental’. Personally I can’t recall any song so blatantly unaware of its inherent stupidity).

Without further adieu....I present to you the ultimate Brian Jonestown Compilation Mix.

1. ’Mary Please’ from the album ‘Take it From the Man’ (1996)

Taken from the sixties regurgitation joyride that was undoubtedly a nightmare for Newcombe to create, as this tortured chap singing about free love and ecstasy may be harmonic bliss for his listeners but at what expense of the lead singer’s psyche? For my money, nowhere in the BJM’s catalogue equals ‘Mary Please’ in terms of sheer ‘Nuggets’-inspired romp through a cadenced tour of Anton’s dark, twisted outlook on the human condition filtered through enough discord to make Todd Rundgren terrified. In other words, ‘Mary Please’ is the perfect starting point for any extended period in BJM land.

2. ’Wisdom’ from the album ‘Strung Out in Heaven’ (1998)

This is a rarely aggressive investment into a void previously filled by the likes of Teenage Fanclub, an approach defined by droning obsessions of love and confusion in equal doses. ‘Evergreen’ gets all the wistful attention from BJM loyalists longing for the good old days where a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure wasn’t only permitted, but utilized often. Now, with Anton officially succeeding Robert Pollard’s post as mayor and crazy-eyed overlord of Loonyville, that arrangement has been banished from his sovereign nation.

Having said that, pay his teary-eyed followers no mind. ‘Evergreen’ was a nice staple of that fleeting era in BJM land, but Wisdom amplifies all of its best qualities. For all you historians out there, this is what happens when Anton gets it in his head to actually be a good songwriter, as opposed to smoking a bunch of acid and sitting on pro-tools for an hour, a la the vast majority of ‘Who Killed Sgt.Pepper?’

3. ’The Devil May Care (Mom and Dad Don’t)’ from the album ‘Give it Back’ (1997)

One of their most hauntingly beautiful offerings. Much like their buddies Dandy Warhols, the BJM get much, much better when they bring things to a drugged-out near halt, and the slow-burn of ‘The Devil May Care’ is certainly one of the perfect examples of this. Sort of like Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin’ for the new millennium, and that in itself is a remarkable achievement.

4. ’No Come Down’ from the album ‘Their Satanic Majesties Second Request’ (1996)

‘Their Satanic Majesties Second Request’ is a kaleidoscopic nightmare, a completely warped spiral into some seriously deranged territory impossible to comprehend, but totally simple to surrender to. ‘No Come Down’ is the benchmark of this effort. Eastern instrumentation floats in and out at will, and Anton has never sounded more snarly than he does here. Although each fractional second of the song has a wild array of elements assaulting the listener, all of them cohabitate beautifully and no ingredient of ‘No Come Down’ feels out of place or a misguided inclusion in the name of excess. I mean sure some might argue the threat of it raging out of control defeats the positive merits of the song, but then they shouldn’t be listening to the BJM in the first place.

5. ’Going to Hell’ from the album ‘Strung Out in Heaven’ (1998)

Probably as close to radio-friendly as the BJM ever will get, and again a great reminder what a good songwriter Anton can be when he puts the crackpipe down. It really has the sound of a band that really just threw open the windows and finished the tune in one take, sort of like a floaty version of a Jesus and Mary Chain song from their breezy ‘Stoned and Dethroned’ album. I certainly can’t say this about a lot of the BJM’s songs, but it’s a pretty awesome summer song. Plus I’m pretty sure it was featured in one of those ‘American Pie’ movies, and the hilarious irony involved with Anton + the guy who fucked the pie is just too monumental to overlook for the integrity of this list.

6. ’Open Heart Surgery’ from the album ‘Bravery, Repetition, and Noise’ (2001)

Very similar to ‘The Devil May Care’ in terms of mood, ‘Open Heart Surgery’ is a very darkly stunning offering that comes across as one of Anton’s most honest moments. Again, the pace is slowed to a crawl, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of a more tender moment in the BJM’s catalogue than at the end of ‘Open Heart Surgery’ when Anton moans, “I thought I’d write you this song/Maybe I’d make you smile/take your sadness away/”. Truly one of his best vocal performances in the entire catalogue. Raw, retiring, and ultimately an incredibly moving ode that should resonate strongly with anyone who has a pulse.

7. ’Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the Whitehouse)’ from the album ‘My Bloody Underground’ (2008).

Okay, with this entry we’re officially into the Syd Barrett phase of Anton’s life. That is to say, it seems he’s taken every possible step to actively sabotage whatever success the band has achieved up to this point. Let’s see, he moved to Iceland, started ingesting psychedelic drugs on a daily basis, and, oh, instituted a ‘no talking rule’ in the studio while recording.

I absolutely love ‘My Bloody Underground ‘because I think it’s one of the most bravely honest records I have ever heard, but it does go without saying I get the backlash towards the album. There are literally no singles to be found, and I’m pretty sure Anton stops to tune a guitar mid-song during ‘Infinite Wisdom Tooth/My Last Night in Bed With You’. Having said that, there actually are moments of really surreal musicianship, and all it takes is a patience to wade through all the junkie-grinding. ‘Bring Me the Head....’ is one of those examples. In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of the BJM that we have come to instantly recognize, but it’s also clouded by a dizzying array of neo-psychedelic influences. What all this really comes down to, is ‘Bring Me the Head’ is a more punishing, jarring version of a lot of their most memorable early material, and the eerie dissonance provides us with a really unexpected but vastly interesting benchmark in the BJM catalogue.

8. ’Mansion in the Sky’ from the album ‘Tepid Peppermint Wonderland’ (2004)

If you had any doubt as to the extent of the influence the Kinks, Yardbirds, etc have had over Anton over the course of his musical career, look no further than’ Mansion in the Sky’. Conventional sonics abound. This is all reassuringly normal for fans put off by Anton’s forays into total tunelessness and such. Anyway, the jangly guitar line reminds us he still wants us to collectively believe everything he creates equals ‘The Wall’ in regards to mass youth consumption, and while he never equals those lofty heights, at least he leaves us with some tasty melodies until he creates something Rogers Waters and the kids of America can all be proud of. On some level, Anton did used to believe the kids were alright, even if he never admitted it.

9. ’Ljosmyndir ‘from the album ‘My Bloody Underground’ (2008)

There are typically two types of BJM songs. The good ones, as detailed here thus far....and the ones that COULD be good but are undercut by a wild array of oddly placed irritants. ‘Lyosmyndir ‘is neither, a sublimely terrific track that manages to be both simultaneously liquid and free-form rock n roll. The groove is launched from a place we’ll never truly be aware of, and the hypnotic voiceover that accompanies the organ line makes us all cognitively disregard all the gnashing malevolence generally subscribed to during the entirety of ‘My Bloody Underground’. Instead, the message of the song is totally unimportant, but puts us in a position where we can create out own message, ultimately (and of course, shockingly) making this the feel-good song of 2008. A magnificent undercurrent of all those wonderful things in life left unsaid.

10. ’A New Low in Getting High’ from the album ‘And This is Our Music’ (2003)

Upon first listen, you might assume it’s a b-side of ‘Going to Hell, ‘but really, songs like this are Anton’s only alternative to autodestruct. It allows us to see a side of Anton that isn’t spewing venom at anyone not named Anton Newcombe, and instead we are witnesses to a tune ripe for concert-hall echo; that is to say, it’s the best song Marilyn Manson never wrote, but still should keep trying. Rhythmically, this might be the most hip Anton has ever gotten, and if Anton does indeed have any natural wisdom that was inborn and not learned, it’s evident here. A rarity in the BJM catalogue.

11. ’If Love is the Drug, then I Want to Overdose’ from the album ‘Zero: Songs from the Album Bravery, Repetition, and Noise’ (2000)

For my money, the most fully realized song the BJM have ever released. As far as I’m concerned, this is the highlight of their entire discography. There is a swirling, hazy mix included on the retrospective ‘Tepid Peppermint’, but stick with this one. Its stark vulnerability is rivalled by few releases in this decade, and while the base structure is obviously flawless in nearly every regard, it’s the execution that really takes everything home. Anton humbles himself long enough to perfectly deliver a song about, wait for it....actually getting his rocks off through a symbiotic connection with another human being. Wow. The backup female vocals, a crucial component of the original, are basically vanquished on the more recent mix, all the more reason to stick with the one included on ‘Zero’. This is the ‘Wonderwall’ for all the DHT lovin baseheads who finally learned how to see the beauty in ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. No small feat, Anton.

12. ’Crushed’ from the album ‘Methodrone’ (1995)

Sometimes articulating chaos in anachronistic rhyme schemes is enough for me, and if the Jesus and Mary Chain have taught us anything, it should sure as fuck be enough for you too. My favourite moments on ‘Methodrone’ are the simplest; that’s how the BJM have it set up and it doesn’t get much more streamlined than’Crushed’. There’s a lot of tension and release on this track that threatens to not let go-which would have resulted in a real sadistic exercise in futility (which let’s be honest, is one of Anton’s more overbearing gifts). But at some point, it does breathe, and the crude emotion of the track rears its pretty head. The bastard believes in redemption, after all.

13. ’Just For Today’ found on the album ‘Bravery, Repetition, and Noise’ (2001)

What it would sound like if Robert Smith ever escaped from ‘The Forest’ detailed extensively on one of those stupid Cure albums. Certainly one of the BJM’s most lively efforts, and for a second there, I almost detected some Happy Mondayish vocals put forth by Anton. Then I listened again, and comparisons seemed non-grata, a real song emerges from the locomotion and we have a wonderful break from all the pretension Newcombe seems to generally be riddled with when he’s put in a position where the words have to carry the tune.’ Just For Today’ doesn’t quite have the naked anarchy found on ‘No Come Down’, but it has a dooming tasteless push towards the bitter unknown that only Anton can truly replicate. There is a real survivor element to ‘Just For Today’, and since everyone I know seems to be clinging to scraps deemed worthy only by the parties involved, this might just be one of the most appropriate anthems this generation has a chance of latching on to.

14. ’Golden-Frost’ found on the album ‘My Bloody Underground’ (2008)

Kraut-rock has returned! Easily the standout track on ‘My Bloody Underground’, this is one of the most relentless aural attacks ever committed to record. The driving, linear warped journey is truly hard to hear/appreciate at first. The violent scorn doesn’t permit any level of reaction past fleeing from the spraying shrapnel. At some point, it no longer becomes a ‘durable thing’, and instead we start to see ‘Golden-Frost ‘for what it really is....terrible beauty pushing us towards an inevitable conclusion we really can’t escape: the ugly souls of this world are the ones scared they just ain’t livin a life worth dying for. ‘Golden-Frost ‘is the rhythm for all those closing up shop before they ever really opened.

15. ’Sailor’ found on ‘Bravery, Repetition, and Noise’ (2001)

'Sailor' has many charms, most of them shallow. Forget existential subsistence and all that jazz which permeates so much of the BJM’s best (and worst work for that matter). The impulses that allow us all to collectively sway along to ‘Sailor’ are the same ones that encourage us to play ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ drinking games on weekends, write our names in the snow with our piss streams, and buy old Soundgarden records. ‘Sailor’ works on an extremely high level because truthfully, there’s only one level for it to exist/succeed on. Great from both ends until they meet in the middle of the road, and by that time, we’re ready to move on anyways.

16. ’This is Your Last Warning’ found on the album ‘Who Killed Sgt.Pepper?’ (2010)

Originally I wasn’t going to include a song from their most recent effort on this compilation, but I guess I was into that whole ‘comprehensive mix’ thing. The album this track sprouted from is generally the sort of shit that wouldn’t stand half a chance to grace a ‘My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult’ EP, but ‘This is Your Last Warning’ survives despite of, or perhaps because of this. By this point, we’re faced with the possibility Anton has a)lost his motherfucking mind or b)sure wants people to think he’s lost his motherfucking mind. For the most part, this development has led to music veering wildly close to that whole self-parody thing, but sparsely, it yields music strangely captivating. ‘This is Your Last Warning’ falls into the latter category, as a nice nugget of dreamy rock ‘n ‘roll filtered through the mind of someone hoping ambient drone rock has the ability to transmogrify our inner ennui into something more transferrable, something at least we can dance to.

Yes it’s interesting, yes I stand by my decision to include it. But it’s about 150 minutes too fucking long, and when placed by absolute mind-numbing duds on ‘Who Killed Sgt.Pepper?’ like the closing track ‘Felt-Tipped Pictures of UFO’s’, it came off as at downright mind-blowing, when in reality, it’s probably not as good as anything Skinny Puppy ever put out.
Still, you don’t have veto power for this project, so ‘This is Your Last Warning’ stays put.

17. ’Outback’ from the album ‘Methodrone’ (1995)

A glorious wash of feedback to wash away all the guilt that comes with listening to over an hour of Anton Newcombe created music. You’re welcome. (Seriously, ‘Outback’ is at least as good as the Wilco feedback closer ‘Less Than You Think)’.

There you go folks. Everything you should need (or want) to know about Brian Jonestown Massacre condensed into 78 minutes. Frustrating processes like this are cathartic many times....this wasn’t one of those times. At least I feel like I did some good in the world. When Anton wanders into the psycho ward for good, and the BJM legacy gets more befuddled with each passing day, we’ll at least have this linear effort to fall back on. Not bad for a fucking philistine, eh Anton?

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Commenting On: Brian Jonestown Massacre - This Metal Sky

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19439 Posted By: Clay (Canada)

this dude can really write. Not to slight on your other writers, but they arent even close to the skill set Jeff seems to have. ive read a few of his articles, and never understand why his stuff is so buried in the site, I shouln't have to make a special effort to look for your most talented writer. Just saying.

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