Named for Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones and his influence with regards to incorporating Eastern instrumentation with Western sensibilities, the earliest Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) material certainly wore the band’s major influence and namesake on its sleeve. The rockin’ blues and raw sexuality associated with Brian Jones era Rolling Stones was embodied by BJM frontman Anton Newcombe and releases like 1996’s Take It From the Man! with its mid ’60s era Stones rock & roll feel and 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Second Request, where the Eastern influences are more obvious and out front of the band’s trademark psychedelia.
As the band’s career progressed, the obvious Stones’ influence would ebb and flow, always present but sometimes taking a backseat to other influences with releases like 2008’s My Bloody Underground and 2010’s Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? Many of the fluid grooves found on Aufheben, BJM’s latest, can be heard on Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? through tracks like This Is the First of Your Last Warning (Icelandic) and Super Fucked. Both albums also begin with an obvious tip of the hat to the influence of the Subcontinent on the band’s music; however, where Sgt. Pepper was BJM’s psychedelia sifted through a shoegaze filter, arcing back to the band’s debut Methodrone, Aufheben is a far more relaxed and hypnotic trip, with the shoegaze exchanged for a transcendent haze.
Taking its name from a German word with seemingly contradictory meanings, when most often used, it means to abolish but also to preserve. However, in philosophy it often directs to the sublational state of Becoming, the transcendence associated with Hegel’s concepts of Being and Nothing. As Aufheben plays, a similar unifying sense of elements, themes, sounds, and influences becomes more evident. As sonic elements and textures come and go, the album (and the band by default) undergoes its own state of sublation, in a sense becoming Aufheben.
Recorded in Newcombe’s Berlin studio and East German radio station Studio East, Aufheben features original members Newcombe and Matt Hollywood alongside Will Carruthers (Spacemen 3, Spiritualized), Constantine Karlis (Dimmer), and Thibault Pesenti (Rockcandys). As the majority of the album is either sans lyrics or buries them within the texture, an additional element of the sublime is provided via vocal performances by Eliza Karmasalo, who sings her parts in Finnish. True to the album’s name, much of the music within exists in an ever-fluid, ever-changing state of sublation.
As the album opens, it hints at the pre-dawn hours with chirps and crickets heard briefly before a piercing horn much like a nadasvaram breaks the solitude. Panic In Babylon flows with a fluid groove that immediately links back to Tempo 116.7, the opener of Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? However, where Tempo 116.7 would feel right at home with Thievery Corporation’s The Mirror Conspiracy, Panic In Babylon tends to engage with a more hypnotic repeating riff as if it was emanating from a snake charmer’s pungi. The obvious Eastern sounds don’t re-appear so overtly until mid-way through the album on Face Down On the Moon, a slightly lo-mid tempo flute driven piece that is accentuated with what sounds like a sitar. And the sitar on Stairway to the Best Party helps to provide the most outright Stones-esque sound to this album, mirroring the haunting guitar in the Stones’ classic Paint It Black.
Aufheben mixes the Eastern influences with traditional BJM sounds; however, rather than smoldering rock & roll or raga infusion, the first half of this album is informed by hints from the American Southwest, with arrangements and progressions that are often associated with the likes of bands like Calexico. Even as Panic In Babylon floats with an Indian trumpet sound, the rhythm section carries a steady groove that sublimely courses through the album’s opening five songs. The thematic progression through these songs once again reflects the album’s title, always changing and yet retaining its identity.
When listened to from beginning to end, the sense of belonging and connectivity amongst the songs is rather self-evident. However, if the track listing is shuffled, that homogeneity might not be so apparent, hinting at the importance of the album’s sequence. For example, the album’s final track, Blue Order New Monday on the surface sounds starkly out of place and a bit too electro from what preceded it; however, as a piece of the whole, it is the logical conclusion to the album.
Any band worth their weight in salt should always be evolving, shifting into new directions of creativity and expression while maintaining their core identity. Anton Newcombe’s macro-evolution as evidenced by BJM’s discography, clearly shows a progression from the visceral rocker to the cerebral psychedelic. With each effort, BJM continue a transcendence from their early days feigning the swagger of their namesake’s band toward a more complex realization; Aufheben is certainly no different.
Essential Tracks: “Panic in Babylon”, ”Stairway to the Best Party”