21 Mar 2016

Cal's Cult Hero Column #1 / Anton Newcombe

Sometimes I get lost for ideas for posts fitting for my blog, and just really want to write about certain people and artists without just cause to do so. So, on this plain Monday morning, searching for an excuse to write about Anton Newcombe and Julian Cope and The Modern Lovers and Kathleen Hanna, so I thought y'know what; it's my blog, I can do just that, I can start a column on so-called cult heroes and have a full scale geekout as and when it suits me. So here's the first instalment in my Cult Heroes column, which I'll use both as an intro (with accompanying playlist) and exploration of someone that's really fucking cool and in most cases really fucking acclaimed - this one's on Anton Newcombe, of the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

You might recognise Anton A. Newcombe as the star of the most entertaining music documentary of Dig!, which paints him as a depraved lunatic that happened to roll out some greats songs along his twisted alienating, drug-fuelled journey. But the truth is, really, that in that case they kinda had the choice between printing the truth and the legend, and compromised it in a way that was appropriate for cinematic release. The truth is, Newcombe's one of the best provocateurs of acid-drenched, low down dirty psychedelic rock 'n' roll of all time, and whilst seemingly unhinged, Dig! and the wider arched narrative of rock 'n' roll seem to overlook the talent and songsmithstry that goes into every single one of the BJM's records in favour of the surrounding debauchery.

The bulk of Anton Newcombe's creative, artistic output came through the vessel of The Brian Jonestown Massacre; if you've clicked on this article and read this far you won't need an introduction to these crazy critters. But anyway. Here's a two sentence summary for prying ears that might be on the verge of hearing one of the finest bands in the entire world for the first time ever, which is kinda exciting, oui? Here ya go; the Brian Jonestown Massacre are the commune-dwelling psychedelic American equivalent of The Fall. Their genius revolves around the shamanic figurehead of Anton, and in between the widely documented on-stage fights and drug taking, they've put out an amount of records in double figures, pretty much each one a classic of its sphere - if you want a band that have seamlessly blended danger, intelligence and outright musical shamanism, the Brian Jonestown Massacre are a band you should familiarise yourself with.

Now's the paragraph where I mention what Anton's doing now, before the massive geek-out on BJMania (I'm never using that phrase again) I'll state the plain fact that Mr Newcombe's in Berlin, in an absolute creative flourish right now. Last year saw him release 3 records - each of them absolutely brilliant in it's own fairly distinct way - there was 2 with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (one of which was archetypal BJM, the other a mellotron based imaginary film soundtrack, a la Soundtracks For The Blind for people that like a nice dreamy melody) and a solo collaboration with smoky voiced songstress Tess Parks [pictured]. From what I know, he's pretty clean and allowing the massive quantities of creativity to flow on his own terms, and creating some great art in the process ... and ... the next BJM record is set to feature music's most notorious tambourine player, their very own Joel Gion for the first time since 1998's Strung Out In Heaven.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre's back catalogue is so vast, and so comprehensive that it's really intimidating to start off with, but the thing is that there are genuinely no weak records, so taking the plunge into their expansive back catalogue is an action that can only have really positive consequences. My three personal favourite records (and I'll probably do this for every one of these columns) are as follows:-

Take It From The Man: In 1996, the Brian Jonestown Massacre released 3 amazing records of their trademark postmodern psych - this is probably the one for me that's the pick of the bunch. As the airy guitar riff intro wafts into earshot at the start of Vacuum Boots, you know you're in for a for good hourlong sonic jaunt. It's got two versions of Straight Up and Down on, as well as such brilliant numbers as Oh Lord, In My Life and David Bowie I Love You Since I Was Six, all essentials from the BJM back catalogue. / hear it

Strung Out In Heaven: Another record on which they have that scratchy 60's inspired sound where you can't quite put your finger on whether it's from the past, the present, or the future, this was a record the BJM did for indie big US label TVT, Looking at the credits, it's got a sizeable contribution from Matt Hollywood, who left the band in a bit of a dramatic onstage fight not long after, but as you'd expect the songs written by Anton are the most golden. Love is my personal highlight, catchy, timeless and a career BJM high, and the closing duo of Lantern and Wisdom is one of the best ways to end a record ever, it's really rare that an album saves it's best right til the end but this ends the record on a colossal bang. / hear it

Revelation: So mainly for the reason that I only discovered them after the release of Aufheben (aged about 16), this was the first BJM record I fell head over heels in love with contemporaneously. It came out 20 years after their debut, but still pulsates with so much creativity that it's hourlong duration is almost oversaturated with great, great songs. It opens with Vad Hande Med Dem, which is in Swedish and sounds like an instant 60's nugget that got scrapped from the Pebbles compilation at the last minute. What You Isn't sounds so instantly perfect, with it's massive swirling memories taking you straight on a beautiful sundrenched daydream with every listen and Memorymix is one of those songs that I didn't really like at first, but has wormed it's way into my highlights from this album slowly but surely. Inescapable too, Food For Clouds and Goodbye Butterfly are gorgeous sonic tapestries that ensure that from start to finish this a listen so captivating that you'll be sorry for ever doubting the brilliance of this band. / hear it

Anyway, for now that's it from my first attempt at a cult hero column, attempting to put into words just why some of these idols of mine are treasured so much... below, I've embedded a massive 5 hour mix of their songs that some kind soul put on YouTube, basically a muse which I've given so much of my free time to by dipping my toes into every so often... if you're already a fan of the BJM, I hope yr sat there nodding cordially at the screen, but if not, this is your call to arms. Buy their records. Watch 'Dig!'. Devote every spare second you have to immersing yourself in this music. // If you enjoy lame teenage music geek-outs and psychedelic freak-outs I should have more of these on the way fairly soon!

(written by calum cashin)