Eight years after Dig! won Ondi Timoner awards and admiration for her depiction of diverging paths between The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, you’d probably expect that the Dandys would be producing the superior music. You’d be wrong. As does not happen all that often, we have this Spring a clear bake off between the two bands, with BJM having released a fine return to form, Aufheben, and the Dandys releasing This Machine, another in a long line of disappointments stretching back to… well, about the time that Dig! came out and declared Courtney Taylor Taylor the “winner” over notorious BJM frontman fuck-up Anton Newcombe.
Look, no one at Tulip Frenzy is going to declare that the last few batches of BJM music were on a par with such earlier albums as Take It From The Man. Who Killed Sgt. Pepper and other works from the late ‘aughts sounded like Newcombe was recording on an old cassette deck inside an empty Icelandic bank vault after a wild night of MDA out on the glaciers. But Aufheben stands up to the BJM’s best work from the ’90s. “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand” sounds like an outtake from Tepid Peppermint, and the brilliant closer, “Blue Order New Monday” picks up where “Super-Sonic” left off. A band sounding like it once did does not necessarily signal greatness, but in the case of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, we are taking about a return to sounding like Brian Jones gigging with the Pipes of Joujouka at a renaissance fair, that special mix of psychedelic folk that comes from mixing mushrooms with Mandrax at Andy Warhol’s Factory. And that’s a good thing. Welcome back, guys! The move to Kreuzberg or Mitte has been good for Anton, the choice of Berlin as a place to live showing up in Aufheben‘s first song, “Panic In Babylon,” which could be the background music in the hippest donor kebab restaurant in the city.
The Dandys, on the other hand? Ooof. Some time back the lovely Zia McCabe took to the comments section of Tulip Frenzy to plead for a reconsideration of our verdict that the Dandys had grown to kinda suck. We were sympathetic to her argument, because we loved the band. And we anxiously awaited the evidence that they still mattered. But while Aufheben sounds like it was carefully handcrafted by a band of psych-folk artisans living in a post-apocalyptic flat near Alexanderplatz, This Machine seems phoned in, lazy, flat, uninspired. Even on the album’s two or three good songs, the Dandys sound, at best, generic. We never thought they’d be generic because FM radio is so passé. This makes us sad.
Which brings us back to Dig!, and how Courtney got to do the victor’s dictation of history — he literally got to do the voice-over on how, sadly, he’d loved Anton and thought he was a genius, but the evidence was all too clear that he was a junkie who would never get his act together. And here we are, in 2012, and one band is vital and one band not. The addled tortoise on the autobahn has just smoothly passed the Portland hare. Life is funny sometimes. Go buy Aufheben at once.