10 Spellbinding Groovy Songs by The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre Songs

Photo: By Aurelien Guichard from London, United Kingdom (Brian Jonestown Massacre) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With as many line-up changes as they have fingers, Brian Jonestown Massacre is not your typical rock and roll band. Their sound is a constantly evolving genre shifting medley of blues, country, psychedelic, folk and EDM. This unorthodox approach has been incredibly successful at times and at other times less so, but the desire to experiment with arrangements and instruments is what makes the group Brian Jonestown Massacre unique. Formed in the early nineties,  the band Brian Jonestown Massacre have gone from a fuzzy shoe-gaze band, to a sixties pastiche,on to a electronic dance outfit and everything in between.

The band´s protean nature is the duel responsibility of creative powerhouse Anton Newcombe (Vocals, Guitar) and realist Matt Hollywood (Lead Guitar). The relationship between these two was a fractious but fruitful one, driving the band to rightful critical acclaim, albeit belated. It was a relationship that culminated in their finest works: Give it Back, Take it From the Man and Thank God For Mental Illness. These three incredible albums were all released in 1996. Since 1994, the Brian Jonestown Massacre have released an astonishing seventeen albums, thirteen EP´s and sixteen singles

# 10 – Straight Up and Down

“Straight Up and Down,” was released on the brilliant Take It From the Man (1996) LP. An album that is among the best that Brian Jonestown Massacre have produced. On Take it From the Man, the band departed from their fuzzy take on the nineties shoe-gaze movement and exchanged it for a Rolling Stones inspired blues-based rock style. The song”Straight Up and Down,” was the album’s opening track. With a reverb heavy opening gambit-come-guitar riff that sets the song in motion. Straight Up and Down is a bluesy, psychedelic, swaying tune that serves as the perfect introduction to Brian Jonestown Massacre´s trendsetting sound.

# 9 – That Girl Suicide

Taken from the band´s debut release, the song “That Girl Suicide,” perfectly bridged Brian Jonestown Massacre´s transition from shoe gazing fuzz rock outfit to sixties inspired psychedelia. The song was built from a grooving four note bass hook augmented by a trembling sixties guitar line. The vocals are classic Newcombe: a torn, tender, melodic mumbling that speaks of misunderstanding, introspection and taking things slowly. “That Girl Suicide,” is an early precursor for the tentative genius that is Anton Newcombe and Brian Jonestown Massacre.

# 8 – Who

Brian Jonestown Massacre were renowned for producing vast amounts of material in a short time period. The Take it From the Man, LP was originally cut as an EP. However, the band would instead release a mammoth sixteen track album. Recorded in only seven days, the limited timescale brought out a fresh, alternative atmosphere that became a benchmark for the Brian Jonestown Massacre raw sound. From the whining seventh chord blues lick all the way to the songs inspired ending, the great track entitled “Who,” is a rock classic from a band at the top of their game.

# 7 – It Girl

The semi-acoustic album, Thank God For Mental Illness (surely, one of the greatest album titles of all time) was recorded during the band’s most prolific period in 1996.The song  “It Girl,” is a beautifully melodic, minimalist psychedelic, folk-pop song. The sharp, clarity of the lead guitar intertwined with Newcombe´s introverted ramblings, child-like phrasing and contagious melody. It Girl is a lo-fi, shoe-gazing, psychedelic gem.

# 6 – Kid’s Garden

As much a soundscape as a song, Kid´s Garden,” draws on Eastern inspired influences. The croaking vocals are both painfully withdrawn and pleasingly melodic. They follow a simple, Doors-esque picked guitar riff, with a pulsating synth and hand drum providing texture.  Kid´s Garden,” expresses the kind of lackadaisical, bedroom rebellion that was a prominent part of the early nineties youth movement and re-houses it in a retro sixties structure.

# 5 – The Ballad of Jim Jones

Our number five Brian Jonestown Massacre song, “The Ballad of Jim Jones,” is a homage to the man who gave the band their name, or half of it at least. Lyrically, the song deals with god complexes and issues of theology. The song’s protagonist wanders America’s landscape in search of a God or faith to give life meaning. He returns with the conclusion that all God figures are essentially equal including the individual, The song’s deep philosophical content is balanced perfectly with a sardonic sense of humor; an often overlooked element of Newcombe´s lyricism.

# 4 – Free and Easy Take 2

This anti-materialist, campfire anthem features high on our list because of the good vibrations and upbeat tone throughout. Drawing on the American country style of Johnny Cash, “Free and Easy Take 2,” is country duet that advocates an open, non-committal way of life. The song´s darker lyrics dovetail beautifully with the songs uplifting backing vocals. Recorded in just two takes, “Free and Easy Take 2,” is a laid-back country blues classic.

# 3 – BSA

The muted four bar blues intro, tambourine and sliding guitar licks are a perfect exposition of the Rolling Stones inspired music from Take it From the Man. Making a clear reference to the influence, the songs slow grooving blues melody explodes into a huge chorus with a Sympathy for the Devil inspired ´woo woo´ backing vocal. The song’s sexually charged lyricism and lead guitar work showcase Brian Jonestown Massacre´s ability to effortlessly replicate past influences whilst simultaneously making them something fresh and new.

# 2 – Supersonic

The great Brian Jonestown Massacre song “Supersonic,” is the perfect marriage of East and West. Eerily haunting soundscapes bloom into a sensory overload of sitars, trembling guitars, wood blocks, flutes, tambourines and fuzzy guitar chords. The song’s spoken word lyrics are a perfectly understated tool that carries the song “Supersonic,” to its euphoric chorus. The layering of such a vast number of instruments from so many different cultures and styles is a testament to Newcombe’s musical genius. A standout song from a vast back catalog.

# 1 – Anemone

The song “Anemone,” is a strung out, Moroccan inspired masterpiece. Sung by Newcombe´s wife, Katy, the song´s bored-to-death, devil may care vocals are both a tribute to Brian Jonestown Massacre´s shoe gaze roots and a signal of the psychedelic soundscapes that dominated their later works. The unique characteristic of Brian Jonestown Massacre is their uncanny ability to provide vast amounts of depth and texture to a simple chord progression. Here, the two chord acoustic strumming is imbued with all kinds of obscure sounds, rhythms and guitar lines and held together by the songs kinetic tambourine. “Anemone,” is the single song that encapsulates everything great about Brian Jonestown Massacre and, for that reason, is number one on our list.

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