However intentional a decision it was, the Brian Jonestown Massacre has become synonymous with conflict and it is no surprise that the band’s eleventh studio album is stuffed with druggy haze and a healthy dose of aggression. Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? is built upon the sorts of interior conflicts that made bandleader Anton Newcombe such a magnetic trainwreck tour-de-force in Ondi Timoner’s infamous rock doc, “Dig.” Individual tracks bounce from one stylistic extreme to another, but a certain aggro-drone consistency creates a challenging album that only occasionally deals out a hard-fought reward for repeat listeners.
The album kicks off with a promising slab of worldly drug-funk on the instrumental “Tempo 116.7 (Reaching For Dangerous Levels of Sobriety).” Swirling hand percussion, milky oceanic guitar feedback and ear-rattling throat-singing drain into a slow-brewed surreal dance song. The track plays like a movie version of some perfect rave, all slow motion neon and indistinguishable bodyparts flailing and serves to kick off the album on a high note. The additions of Spaceman 3’s Will Carruthers and Icelandic singer Unnur Andrea Einarsdottir to the lineup add to the mayhem, but also contribute some beatific moments that knock the album off balance in a deliriously pleasant way.
While the garage splatter of “Tunger Hnifur” feels like an unending build-up to a crescendo it never reaches, Einarsdottir’s chameleon vocals on “This Is The First of Your Last Warning (Icelandic)” swim amid a joyously cluttered song structure and find numerous outlets for her jubilant energy. The sweltering distortions of “The One” bleed and bend into a fully formed space-prog jam as the song’s pitch-perfect synthesis of monotony and momentum achieves the musical equivalent of holding your breath for four minutes. Elsewhere, the crunchy drum machines of “Someplace Else Unknown” and acoustic guitars plastered over synthesized bass on “Super Fucked” achieve a tonal balance that easily supports Newcombe’s breathy, distorted vocal attacks. Tucked into the outsize electro-psychedelic mish-mash is a strange-beautiful shoegaze pop ditty called, “Our Time.” The track feels slender in its lo-fi emulation of My Bloody Valentine, but the band sounds more comfortable and alive (especially when juxtaposed with epic, sample-laden snooze-fest closer, “Felt Tipped Pictures Of UFO’s” which can’t make much sense of its wall-to-wall Beatles sound-bites) than anywhere else on Sgt. Pepper. While conflicts may have allowed The Brian Jonestown Massacre to secure its place in the minds of the indie rock devoted, it’s the sole moment of peaceful complacence that gives Sgt. Pepper its most refreshing sound.
Favorite Track: “Our Time”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.