Seems every established band has that one album; typically an ”experimental” album that either symbolizes: 1) a one-off studio indulgence or 2) a complete lack of engaging ideas. We have all suffered through an album of studio or live “noodling” by rock-stars that had finally wrestled artistic control from the record label only to find they don’t have a damn thing to say. There are lots of examples; everyone from George Harrison to Willie Nelson to Frank Zappa have indulged in this practice. But it’s Pink Floyd’s 1969 album, Ummagumma that rises to the top of our list. More then just an “experimental” record, Ummagumma is special only in the sense that it is the most treasonous and pointless of these indulgences. An album that represents a band at the crossroads; and without a cue as to how to proceed forward without the (acid-soaked) genius of departed member Syd Barrett. On Ummagumma, David, Roger, Richard and Nick just didn’t know what the they wanted from a new album; perhaps a unnecessary live album of Barrett material? Or a pretentious studio wank-off? Maybe both? Ultimately, the record is just a desperate attempt to buy a little extra time. And maybe you think that’s being a little harsh. But I challenge the reader to listen to the band’s appropriately titled “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” without giving up a good laugh. Enough said.
Of course, there are exceptions to this (rather cynical) rule about experimental albums. And sometimes an artist needs to make a purposeful left-hand turn with their art. For a true innovator such a move may be unavoidable. The experimental musings adding depth and character to their entire discography. Such is the case with Brian Jonestown Massacre’s My Bloody Underground (2008). Anton Newcombe has always been a musican that insisted on constructing his own template for success. Writing his own script for his career (and his life) right from the beginning; staying true to the core of his vision without ever getting trapped by his own good intensions. Still, My Bloody Underground came as a surprise upon it’s release 2008. Most of the audience seemed to dismiss the album of lengthy drones, piano dirges and eastern experiments as a one-off project or a returned to the Shoe-gaze sound of their early records. An “interesting record” that just doen’t get the playing-time it deserves. However you see it, My Bloody Underground even gets overlooked by hardcore fans. And that’s a unfortunate mistake. Because on MBU, fans and listeners alike have the opportunity to hear Newcombe’s music truly take flight.
The album starts off on more traditional ground with the track, “Bring Me The Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg”. A smart, snarky jangle that is really everything we have come to expect from BJM. But something is different. The production is noisy and crude with layers raw guitar that sounds like the more energetic passages of Metal Machine Music. But it’s the lyric that sets the tone;
Oh man, it’s dropping out of heaven and it’s bringing the word.
The wicked fucking sound that you never have heard…Now it walks Edith my soul and it lives with my mind
And it’s got a big gun and it’s hunting mankind…While it’s fucking your girlfriend and it’s flying in space
As it puts you to shame as it spits in your face…Here it comes.
Indeed, something was different. My Bloody Underground is filled with the bitter wisdom of a man in full rage; “Who Fucking Pissed in My Well?” or “My Last Night in Bed With You”. Suprizingly enough, many of these songs are uniquely titled sound-experiments that take the album in a much different direction then you may expected. Collectively, these tracks come from a place deeply personal and feel oddly overlooked. But let me explain. MBU plays like a cosmic-dialogue between the artist and the entire world around him. A world completely unaware of what lays just beneath. Music, intelligence and art; these can be very lonley places to live and work. So instead of producing meaningless studio wizardry, Newcombe has found a creative escape within the wordless beauty and sonic stilliness of these psychedelic-drones. This is best demonstrated on the album’s final piece of music; more then a blank mystery, Black-Hole Symphony is an open window that allows the music to grow and fly well beyond the walls of the recording studio.
In 1976, Krautrock pioneers, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius created the final classic Cluster’s album, Sowiesoso (Anyway). An album of amazing beauty and surprising grace. They too sought an escape from the complexities growing around them; Moebius and Roedelius sought to create “ambient electronic soundscapes for natural pastoral living”. And despite the provocative titles, My Blood Underground has a settled, repetitive groove (motorik) that is much closer to those Krautrock pioneers than anything related to the shoe-gaze movement. This may indeed be difficult emotional territory that MBU explores; personal territory owing much to a collective feeling of loneliness and alienation . But when we listen a bit closer, BJM and specifically, Newcombe, seems to have found a safe harbor through the process of creation. My Bloody Underground represents that achievement. The music taking the listener deeper within the story of a creative soul; and how he has found the process for his own escape.