The status of prolific neo-psychedelic outfit the Brian Jonestown Massacre is always in question. With nearly forty members revolving around the San Francisco band since its inception in 1990, the one constant variable is outspoken frontman Anton Newcombe. The brilliant beginnings of the heroin-addled Methodrone and Their Satanic Majesties Second Request garnered them comparisons to the brilliant white noise tendencies of the Velvet Underground, only for them to later release the terribly indulgent My Bloody Underground.
Aufheben is German for either “to lift up,” “to abolish” or “to transcend.” The conflicting meanings of the word make sense placed into the context of Jonestown’s latest release and twelfth studio album, Aufheben. The notion of lifting up or transcending a certain state of existence is apparent with the obvious influence of Indian classical music and various other disciplines of Eastern music, a flavor that blends relatively well with the particular brand of neo-psychedelia that Brian Jonestown Massacre is known for, but it is not completely realized. Starting with “Panic in Babylon” (a track strikingly reminiscent to rival band the Dandy Warhols’ “Mohammed”), it ultimately extends into a lukewarm jam, circling to eventually fall at a dead end. Echoes wash over the tepid “Viholliseni Maala,” becoming a monotonous mantra.
Incense slowly burns in a room covered with paisley-imprinted tapestries with “Gaz Hilarant” and the flute-enhanced “Illuminoni,” embodying psychedelia in its purest form. Ever the admirers of wordplay, the orchestral “I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand” is solid, one of the few tracks on the album featuring Newcombe’s melodic drawl is discernible as opposed to the oscillating echoes on other tracks on Aufheben. “Clouds Are Lies” also surfaces as one of the more traditionally Jonestown tracks, with a gauzy veil of psychedelia and drones coating the surface.
Most notably, Aufheben exhibits a more significant absence of Anton’s vocals, previously a centerpiece in Jonestown’s albums. A valiant attempt to combine varying disciplines of Eastern music with neo-psychedelia, Aufheben is a pleasant listen. Yet the once-dizzying jams that Brian Jonestown Massacre has crafted in the past are subdued, even timid on Aufheben — save for the shoegazey “Seven Kinds of Wonderful.”
Gone are the magnificent noise jams present in Methodrone or the sleepy, spaced-out wanderings of Their Satanic Majesties Second Request. Anton and the gang are treading carefully, taking tentative steps into the nauseating whirlpool of the ever-shifting neo-psychedelia. Take the plunge, Anton. With more cojones, the combination of Indian influences and distortion-heavy jams could have turned Aufheben into a sort of pièce de résistance.