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The Brian Jonestown Massacre

My Bloody Underground (A Records) -- 3.5 stars

By Meredith S. Steuer, Contributing Writer

The Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) knows its rock and isn’t afraid to reference. Their second album was entitled “Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request” and was filled with the rollicking energy of The Rolling Stones’ 1967 LP “Their Satanic Majesties Request.” The cover art of BJM’s new album, “My Bloody Underground,” features a white ’73 (the year the Velvet Underground officially disbanded) on a red background. Fittingly, the album is filled with the moodiness and memorable acoustic motifs that Lou Reed and company made memorable.

With titles like “Just Like Kicking Jesus” and “Auto-Matic-Faggot for the People,” the group maintains their tradition of rock-star irreverence.

The first track, “Bring Me The Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House),” invites the listener into a dream world of primal beats and melodic repeating motifs. This atmosphere ensnares the listener for much of the record, which lasts over an hour, in keeping with the epic proportions typical of the group.

The goal of the LP is summed up pretty neatly in “Heather Mills,” when lead singer Anton Newcombe—singing more clearly than he will for most of the rest of the album—conversationally claims that he’ll “tell you all about it because you’ve spoken to me.” “It” turns out to be his soul, as is made clear in the lyrics, “Now I’ve walked with my soul, and it lives with my mind / And its gotta be going and it’s hunting mankind.” Later in the same song, he presents himself as a mere puppet of his soul, thereby attributing his music to an expression of this deeper source.

“My Bloody Underground” isn’t just exploring the styles of seminal rock bands; it appears to be hunting the roots of all humankind. As is typical of BJM, a wide range of musical tricks—from sitars to African drums to classical piano—gets featured on various tracks. BJM also culls their lyrics from a diverse linguistic spectrum, even composing and naming a song in an Icelandic tongue (“Ljósmyndir”). Just as Newcombe promises his soul will bring “many… presents for the children” in the album opener, the record features delightful pieces that make you want to sit on the floor of your room and mellow out. When the haunting sounds and incessant beats on “Who Cares Why?” or the African drum and sitar-fueled beauty of “Who Fucking Pissed In My Well?” surround you, you might imagine that the band would be playing for an intoxicated audience.

But the album isn’t just one long, joyful trip; it also puts “you to shame as it spits in your face.” Although you have to admire a rock band that tries to push the envelope and makes their own social and political statements, the patently offensive track titles are over the top and produce a clichéd effect. The band tries, as it claims in the first track, to read the listener’s mind—but only the darkest, most painful, and most secret recesses of it.

Take the track “Monkey Powder,” most memorable for its grating, repetitive electric guitar and use of bass chords over a monotonous drum beat. This could seem to be a lapse in the creativity and melodic capacity of the artists, but taken in the context of the whole album, it serves as an effective moment of anger, as the singer demands, “Can you feel?” over and over again, as if he already knows the answer in his pessimistic mind.

While creating energetic, moving pieces with melodies obviously influenced by groups like The Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine, the Brian Jonestown Massacre has a modern message to convey in their own subtle way. The lyrics become less and less clear as the album progresses until it ends with the doomsday finale, electonica low-fi “Black-Hole-Symphony.” “My Bloody Underground” may not be the most optimistic or the most original album, but it makes for memorable listening nonetheless.

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