Archive for Anton Newcombe

We Wish The Vacant Lots’ “Endless Night” Lasted Forever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It might be easy to categorize The Vacant Lots as a sophisticated art project, given their album covers are as distinctive as their sound.  But from the very start, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen proved their mix of garage psych and synth-driven pop was aimed at pleasing aural canals.  They have aimed to become a great band, associated with the likes of Dean Wareham, Anton Newcombe, Sonic Boom, and Alan Vega, and their debut album Departure has stayed on our playlist since the summer of 2014.  And yet none of this prepared us for Endless Night, which from its start to its historic finish is astonishing.

The duo, co-located in Burlington and New York City, gave us a fresh glimpse of greatness when their Berlin EP, a collaboration with Newcombe in his adopted hometown, came out last November.  It simultaneously sounded like the best of recent Brian Jonestown Massacre albums and the apotheosis of that swirling, disorienting sound The Vacant Lots had contributed to our permanent playlist.  But just a few months later, Endless Night shows that Artaud and MacFadyen’s vision has become realized.

Take the opener, “Night Nurse,” which has Artaud pick out a sinuous rockabilly lead above a disco beat, and quickly transports you into the demimonde of a tiny club, hermetically sealed against outside influences.  We’re going to be in for, well, a pleasurably endless night.  “Pleasure & Pain” is not the first of these songs to call to mind progenitors Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized, and in fact, “Dividing Light” has the power of Jason Pierce’s most compelling work.  Throughout Endless Night, the hitherto unappreciated juxtaposition of disco and techno, psych and soul,  rockabilly and garage, makes the blood pulse like Molly just arrived.

We said the album’s finish was historic, and by this we mean that Alan Vega of Suicide, who died last July, brings his final growl to “Suicide Note.”  What a way to go.

With Endless Night, The Vacant Lots serve notice that they’ve entered the front ranks, and we anticipate that when the story of 2017 is told — musically at least — and Top 10 lists are fashioned, The Vacant Lots will be among the last men standing.

An Evening With The Brian Jonestown Massacre At D.C.’s 9:30 Club

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 6, 2016 by johnbuckley100
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On their 2016 tour of these United States, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are doing something they mostly avoided the last time we saw them — they are playing songs from Anton Newcombe’s fairly astonishing recent creative output, and going deep into the back catalogue.  It is as if Methadrone and Mini Album Thingy Wingy were recorded by the same band in the same year, not by largely different bands more than 20 years apart.

We’d largely forgotten “Never Ever,” which kicked off the set, but if ever you wanted to steep yourself like a mushroom tea bag in the Velvets’ Factory sound, yeah, good place to begin.  And what a thrill it was to hear them play “Goodbye (Butterfly)” or “Pish,” which rank among our favorite recent BJM songs, capturing all the magic of this greatest working band which, not that long ago, may have seemed like their best work was behind them.

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For the initiated, this was a marvelous show, occasionally crystalizing with shimmering layers of guitar, the emollience of the organ, Daniel Allaire kicking the drum kit no matter what else was going on.  And there was a lot going on.  Anton was as cranky as we’ve ever seen him, twice chiding Ryan Van Kriedt for playing acoustic guitar (on “Anemone” and “Prozac vs. Heroin”), even though in the latter case, Van Kriedt politely informed the mercurial bandleader that he’d actually told him to play it.  (“I don’t care, there’s a hole in the middle of the song when you play it.”)  Hey, at least he didn’t stab him, like he allegedly did Frankie Teardrop during the 2009 tour.

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Hearing the band line up with Anton, Ryan, and Ricky Maymi each playing 12-string guitars was a treat, a sonic treat.  Over the course of their long existence, BJM have grafted their own take on the Velvet Underground’s guitar sound atop Cure-era Power Pop, while somehow harkening to a Summer of Love psychedelic dynamic.  When you hear Anton sing and play guitar on a fairly new song, “Days, Weeks and Moths” from 2014’s Revelation, it brings to mind Blind Faith, or maybe Traffic, but nevertheless a band right on the back end of the ’60s.  And yet it is completely contemporary, if you’re an oddball like me who thinks psychedelic rock’n’roll is contemporary.

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There were moments when even Joel Gion grew a little frustrated with Anton’s temper.  But let’s cut the genius some slack.  Since quitting drugs and alcohol, since moving to Berlin and becoming a father, Anton has produced some of the greatest music of his career, which no one, circa 2005, would have predicted.  There were moments during last night’s near three-hour set that were magical, less like seeing a band perform than being inside the rehearsal studio when lightning was captured in a bottle.  Anton promised not one, but two new albums this year.  We can’t wait to hear ’em.

 

 

The Magic Castles “Starflower” Revels In Anton Newcombe’s Influence

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2015 by johnbuckley100

In Japan, they call interconnected companies with deep, informal ties keiretsus. In Korea, they refer to business entities with interlocking relationships as chaebols. In rock’n’roll, we have Anton Newcombe who, in his multiple roles as leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, solo artist, producer, and head of the label A Records has connected a web of bands that collectively capture an outsized slice of real estate in our digital music collection, or in psychic-business terms, a large share of mind.

From Birdstriking to KVB, Tess Parks to Flavor Crystals, more often than not, the music that has preoccupied us in recent months somehow all connects back to Anton. Last week we wrote about the Flavor Crystals, whom we first heard open for the Brian Jonestown Massacre years ago. It got us to thinking, and sent us back to listen to the recently released fourth album by Magic Castles, the Minneapolis band we first heard opening for BJM in 2012, and about whom we wondered aloud, are the Magic Castles the best young band in America?

On Starflower, Magic Castles infuse the chiming, psychedelic pop that was so hypnotic on last year’s Sky Sounds in such a strong garage ambiance, you can practically taste the engine oil. Interestingly, for a band releasing their fourth album, it’s really only on this one that, time and again, you can hear the explicit influence of Newcombe; the songs don’t just sound like something BJM would have produced, they sound specifically like recent albums Newcombe’s recorded over the compressed, amazingly prolific last 18 months.

Starflower is not the first music we’ve heard that also invokes Eno’s first album, as Magic Castles do on “Samara,” but it is definitely the first album connecting Newcombe to an earlier multifaceted musician-producer-impresario around whom such great music revolved. Starflower may not take Tulip Frenzy’s Album of The Year, but we can’t stop listening to it. In fact, between the Anton Newcombe and Tess Parks album I Declare Nothing, The Shiver of the Flavor Crystals, and what we’ve heard so far from the impending Brian Jonestown Massacre Mini Album Thingy Wingy, we could, like a business in Japan or Korea, exist entirely within a single keiretsu, one integrated chaebol.

The Asteroid No. 4 Still Shoots Through The Night Sky

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 26, 2014 by johnbuckley100

It’s been 15 years since Sounds of Psychedelphia caught The Asteroid No. 4 plummeting toward us, but on the space/time continuum, that moment is separated from this by but a blink of an eye.  They’ve moved, to San Francisco, which of course makes sense, since they comprise the entire narrative of psychedelic bands, from the Acid Tests to Marin and back, grokking country music along the way, only to return to tuneful folkrock roots. Ah, but they never fully leave the land of psychedelia.

The new album is simply called Asteroid #4, though it’s A4’s eighth, and it’s a beaut.  It has enough sitars to get Anton Newcombe smiling, even though his record label no longer puts their music out.  On this one A4 can invoke a lysergic afternoon (“Mount Meru”), and come back with a radio-perfect pop song like “Ropeless Free Climber,” which is so pure you can imagine Alex Honnold psyching himself up with it before clabbering up the Half Dome.

Look, for a decade and a half The Asteroid No.4 have undemonstrably plied the land as one of our great bands.  They have not lacked musical ambition, they just haven’t been careerists. Which is only one of the reasons you may not previously have genuflected before them, which you should do right now. They may even have a bit of a perverse streak, letting loose their country inclinations just when touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre should have locked in their relationship with the kids who came for “Anemone.”  On The Asteroid #4, the band serves up something for everyone: those who want the trance rock to throb, and those who love ’em because they hear echoes of the Byrds.

We love ’em because they never disappoint, and eight albums in, The Asteroid #4 is a delight.

Triumphant Tours By The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols Led Us Back To “Dig!”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on July 21, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Throughout this summer of triumphant European tours by both the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, our Twitter feed has been stuffed with the retweets of avid fans overflowing with excitement over having just seen one band or the other.

On a given July morning, you might see this retweeted by Anton Newcombe (band leader and skillful social media tour director of BJM):

Or this tweet posted by The Dandy Warhols:

Given that alternate nights at this year’s Austin Psych Fest were headlined by the two bands — famous for their friendship, rivalry, their frenemy status — and that day by day, as we would see these alternating reports on how great their shows each were the night before — the Dandys in Dusseldorf, the BJM in Oslo (or wherever) — a few days ago, on a long plane flight, we were compelled to re-watch  Dig!, Ondi Timoner’s 2004 film that chronicles seven years of the two bands each struggling up the greasy pole of rock music success.  Based on what we know about the two bands from just the Summer of 2014 — sold out shows across Europe, Anton/Brian Jonestown Massacre playing no doubt great sets featuring songs from their magnificent new album, Revelation… the Dandys bringing big crowds to their feet by playing mostly songs from their back catalog… how would Dig! hold up?  What would viewing it ten years after its release be like?

Well, it’s not surprising that it is still so fine, so amazingly entertaining, still sad (watching the Anton Newcombe of those days, um, not succeed), still compelling.  It remains one of the handful of really excellent movies ever made about rock’n’roll.  The master narrative, for those who haven’t seen it, is that the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols were, in the 1990s, trying to revolutionize the world of rock music, and not incidentally, become huge.  Courtney Taylor and the Dandys both worshipped and were exasperated by the unrelenting, unfocused genius of Anton Newcombe, who no matter what else was going on — fistfights on stage, drug busts by Georgia sherifs, editions of the band imploding mid-tour — was capable of getting BJM to create album after album of important and meaningful music.  And while the Dandys got the big record contract, not all was groupies and cocaine in their world; they were subject to the machinations of a suppurating record industry, ultimately making fine records that were poorly promoted, even as they found a big audience, particularly in Europe, for their live shows.

Though it is narrated by Courtney Taylor, the movie is really the story of Anton Newcombe.  Dig! is a chronicle of a genius whose career flounders due to his peccadilloes, urges and addictions, his borderline behavior — even as we repeatedly come to understand how, of the two bands, it is the Brian Jonestown Massacre that is jacked into the live wire of real rock’n’roll.  Even when Peter Holmstrom of the Dandys is bitching about something that Anton has done to alienate them, the last sentence in each soundbite is some variation of, “And yet their music is just always that much more brilliant than anything anyone else can do.”  The movie ends with Antone not quite as a young and beautiful as he was in the early scenes, still flailing away at success, as the rival Dandys have settled into a niche of creative and commercial success.  Even though by 2004, BJM had released three score songs that will live forever, even though our record collection is fat with their multiple great albums, there was no sense of whether they would ever make it, and particularly whether Anton would survive from all the different ways he beat his head against the wall.

Flash forward to this summer and both bands have “made it.”  No, neither band sells millions of copies of their records.  But both bands — BJM and Dandys — are killing it each night on stage, with big crowds and happy tweeters.  Anton is broad of face, no longer handsome, but certainly healthy — his Twitter feed filled with shaky pictures of the sushi he’s eating, not lines of various powders — and he is back to putting out great records.  The Dandys may no longer be changing their world through their new records, but they are certainly worth seeing, one of the best live bands working today.  Both bands have adoring fans, and there is room for each to be the headline act in that alternative world in which alternative music — music that matters — still exists, record companies be damned.

It is a seemingly happy time for both bands.  But what really is most delightful is that Anton Newcombe, the troubled genius of Dig!, today is sober, productive, and still every bit the innovator he was in the 1990s.  Rock’n’roll does not have a wealth of happy stories.  This is one.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Revelation” Is Perfectly Named

Posted in Music with tags , , , on May 19, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Beginning in 2010, when Who Killed Sgt. Pepper was the follow-up to My Bloody Underground, we began to think of the Brian Jonestown Massacre as a superb live band with one of the great back catalogues in rock, but not really a band whose who new album would engender much excitement.

But then came 2012’s Aufheben, which had a number of songs as good as anything Anton Newcombe had ever written, with “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand” and “Blue Order New Monday” taking up permanent residence inside our earbuds.  We began to get excited about what tricks Anton still had up his sleeve.

Revelation, which officially comes out tomorrow but happily was available to download last night, is so good, we wonder if it might be the Love and Theft to Aufheben‘s Time Out Of Mind, a portent not just of a return to greatness after a less-than-great creative patch, but an indicator that Newcombe’s best work, like Dylan’s, might someday be understood to have been made when his youth was behind him — to be not what he produced when he was a young and brash punk, but what came after a hard-earned perspective.  I mean, there were days when few people might have expected Anton would be around to make an album in 2014 — but to discover that he’s produced one of the best albums of his career?  Yeah, it’s got the right name: Revelation.

The album begins wonderfully, with the Swedish rocker “Vad Hande Med Dem” giving way to the Kurt Vile-ish “What You Isn’t.”  By the time we get to “Memory Camp,” it doesn’t matter which members of the large tribe that have variously performed as BJM are playing behind Anton, it doesn’t matter that we’re in Berlin, not California, no other band or set of musicians — not even ones like the Morning After Girls who worshipped the sticky ground on which Anton walked — could produce a Brian Jonestown Massacre album half as good as this. By the time we got to “Food For Clouds,” we were grinning ear to ear.  At “Memorymix,” we were ready to take the day off and just hole up, having committed to memory the phone number to the Dominos delivery folks.  By “Xibalba” we were dancing around the house.

Over the past few weeks, as Dan and Joel and Matt, as Ricky and Frankie descended upon Austin like the Hole In The Wall Gang getting together with Butch and Sundance to go rob a bank, excitement mounted.  They came together to play at the Austin Psych Fest, and then do a few West Coast shows before heading off to Europe, and reports came fast and furious that the band was in fine form.  Interviews with Anton found him completely on his game, honest about the past, a sober father with a great sense of humor.  Revelation reveals marriage, fatherhood, and sobriety have not diminished his creativity one wit.  And of course, as is so often the case, as a sober artist, these days he’s more capable of hitting his mark.

We expect to be playing Revelation until the hard drive on our device gives out.  Most important — and we are struggling to convey this to the band of weirdos to whom this really matters — based on the evidence available here, it’s time to raise our expectations and settle in for a late run.  The albums the Brian Jonestown Massacre are producing in the mid-’10s are as good as what they produced in the ’90s.  We may be ahead of ourself thinking that Anton’s on a run like the one that Dylan went on between ’97 and, oh, 2010.  But our hopes are high again.

 

Other Than The Magic Castles, How Were The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Mrs. Lincoln?

Posted in Music with tags , , , on August 23, 2012 by johnbuckley100

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What a difference having a good album to push makes.  We’ve seen — and enjoyed immensely — the last four Brian Jonestown Massacre tours, but with the release earlier in the year of Aufheben, the first BJM album in a decade that rivals the best of their ’90s output, it was as if Anton Newcombe was reborn as a downright chatty (for him), occasionally pogoing multi-instrumentalist (okay, harmonica as well as guitar.) We counted four songs from the new album, or was it five?  They didn’t simply rely on classics from Take It From The Man; this was a set more evenly balanced between music from this decade and the previous ones.  The BJM’s live sound is so unique: a rhythm guitar army, Branca-esque in force, widens spectral mid-tones while Anton picks riffs that serve as careful filigrees over the main strumming squall.  (Having Matt Hollywood take on the singing duties from “Viholliseni Maalla” was a nice touch, and who knew he could sing in Finnish?)

Moreover, whoever would have thought we’d hear music like this in 2012?  Whoever would have thought Anton would be this strong and vital at this moment in time?  Not the last Dandy on Earth, that’s who.  Berlin agrees with him.  The band is revitalized by the new material.  They were fine last night.

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