Rating: 3/5On Aufheben, the highly prolific Anton Newcombe returns beneath the Brian Jonestown Massacre moniker with a freshly shuffled roster and new slate of influences to paste into psychedelic pastiches. In stretches, the throwback outfit sounds strangely even more relevant here, amid recent waves of dream pop and gritty garage psych, than they did in the days following their unflattering portrayal in a certain Ondi Timoner rock doc from 2004 (to which the band still curiously refers in press releases). Back then, when they enjoyed a brief and unfortunately framed shuffle through the spotlight and every other breath had them paired with “rivals” the Dandy Warhols, their drugged-out, anachronistic jams were more an albatross than selling point. Today the formula has been reversed, at least somewhat.
Aufheben (a term denoting what happens when a thesis and antithesis interact, to get all Hegelian) kicks off at a whirl with bird and cricket chatter, a rolling rhythm and a writhing nay on “Panic in Babylon,” jungle noise, roosters and digitized wolf howls eventually underscoring the spinning instrumental as it peters out. The self-propelled, mesmerizing “Viholliseni Maalla” follows it, a plaintive surf rock bass line adrift in its background, guest musician Eliza Karmasalo’s Finnish vocals, split in layers and teased through a syllable at a time, an oddly fitting companion to the subdued instrumentation. The effect is an entrancing dreaminess reminiscent of Yo La Tengo. “Gaz Hilarant” has an alt-country shake to it, with BJM’s customary moaning drawls attached to it in scattered sections, a little fuzzed-out guitar breaking up the landscape. Meanwhile, bursts of breathy flute bring “Illuminomi” to life, but the track starts to sag after a couple minutes.
The band don’t attempt anything approaching a conventional song until “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand,” the result less than belying connection with the compulsive droning of Spiritualized (Will Carruthers being part of the present incarnation of BJM and having had a hand in Aufheben’s production). Sitar, flute and tremolo guitar interplay above staggered beats on “Face Down On the Moon,” and the outcome is pressing and surprisingly fresh. “Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe” scales up jagged slashes of guitar colored by the faintest hint of a panicky “Paint It Black” chord progression. “Seven Kinds Of Wonderful” adds the barest of synths to the fold and “The Clouds Are Lies” revolves on itself and its textured effects as a reverb-rich Newcombe pops in occasionally. The spindly bass line of “Blue Order / New Monday” gives it a breezy, upbeat feel that’s foreign and natural sounding for the band all at once, whereas “Waking Up To Hand Grenades” represents a fascinating if sometimes clumsy grasp at new forms.
BJM founding member Matt Hollywood rejoined the band after more than a decade away and Newcombe even managed to score the aid of New Zealand outfit High Dependency Unit’s drummer Constantine Karlis for the record. But while the presence of Hollywood, Carruthers and post-rocker Karlis might point toward a return to the compact swirl of 1995’s Methodrone or the unhinged haze of And This Is Our Music, it’s not quite the case. A few cuts amble along too aimlessly or are so slow-going that they lose the pressure that might have otherwise built up if the band had kept a lid on slightly. Several – “Gaz Hilarant” premier among them – could just have easily been Calexico tunes. Somewhat front-loaded, Aufheben never manages to transcend (apparently one of several given translations of the word “aufheben”) prior outings from BJM, but does at least represent a clear attempt at something beyond just blandly committing stuff to tape. What the deliberately, almost pathologically abstruse Newcombe synthesizes next, we’ll have to see.