On November 10 2017 Anton Newcombe shared a rough-cut version of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album, Something Else, via YouTube. The man behind one of counter-culture’s most enduring, prolific bands, also shared a note: “this is a rough version of an album… everything is just as i make it up. this is a work in progress….it exists to share the process as it is being created in refined. the goal is to hit 20 minutes per side of a vinyl record. i am a few short seconds over. i can keep writing and try and make better songs,or chop chop… either way it doesn’t matter….” Well, here we are, seven months later – and the album has dropped, and the chop-chop has worked well.
Across his career at the helm of The Brian Jonestown Massacre Anton Newcombe has sustained a creative output that is apparently a part of his biological imperative. Without work, it appears as if Newcombe cannot function. His continuing output reflects a work ethic that should shame more delicate, career strategists. Sure, in The Brian Jonestown Massacre back catalog there are some releases that have had some of us scratching our heads – but that’s to be expected when experimentation is married with a compulsive drive to share. Newcombe may be guilty of a few charges leveled at him, but he is never short of honest, he is never short of certain, he is never short of bringing his full game. So what of Something Else?
Across the sequence of the band’s eighteenth full length album, Newcombe has delivered nine songs that remind you why you continue to admire the band, and why you’ll always let The Brian Jonestown Massacre back in. Arguably, Newcombe doesn’t stray too far from his favored palette of colors here. Broad strokes of psychedelia are fleshed out. Contrasts between the immediately accessible album opener “Hold That Thought” and the closing “Silent Stream” unfold in a process that takes the listener out into the inkier waters of Newcombe’s vision. But for all the shifting shapes they retain a cohesion, and a sense of purpose that is remarkable. This thing has the disciplined exuberance and vitality of a debut.
His concern of time-restrictions of the vinyl format reveal an approach to craft, and also something of how Newcombe consumes art. There’s a standard here that’s measured by something deep in the fabric of the songwriter. This is how music should be shaped and shared. The Brian Jonestown Massacre has always toyed with the lyrical expectations of an audience, but here the dark playfulness feels somehow better realized, more committed – more in line with the great albums of Newcombe’s output.
In “My Love” there’s a line; “If I planned a field trip just for you, to see the grass and trees and get away, and stare all day into the sun, and wait for kingdom come.” which doesn’t simply suggest space and escape – the instrumentation spreads out on a Moe Tucker-like drum line. Cymbals splash, guitars barely hold their shape, and a huge distance between verses makes a highpoint on the album.
Given Newcombe’s concern for ‘chop chopping’ his rough cut – there’s still plenty of time to play with scale and lengthier time signatures. “Silent Stream”, another highpoint, closes the album with over eight minutes of pensive exploration. This could well be one of Newcombe’s best moments on record. This sprawling drone-piece is mesmerizing – the song-equivalent of a lava lamp where thoughts drift, reshape, develop new relationships within the chamber. One phrase “Only words…” reveals a possible insight into how Newcombe views the fetters of language. The noise around his language is fucking wonderful. Something Else is fucking wonderful.
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