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My Top Five Brian Jonestown Massacre Albums

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My Top Five Brian Jonestown Massacre Albums

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In case you haven’t heard, The Brian Jonestown Massacre are on tour for the first time in years. To celebrate, I thought I’d share my top five favorite BJM albums.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre in rehearsal, Berlin March 2022, photo by Olya Dyer

For a little about me, I wrote the book on BJM (and the audiobook, which is out now). After researching the BJM’s records and how they were made for over a decade, I’ve found that they’re best when they’re either made with a fiery-hot band or when lead songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcome has the opportunity to express the full gamut of whatever creative visions he has been processing since the last record. This list features both.

So, without further ado, let’s jump in!


  1. Take It from the Man! (and Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request and Thank God for Mental Illness) – 1996


Take It from the Man! will always be my all-time favorite Brian Jonestown Massacre album because, when I hear it, I hear the garage rock revival that I came up with in high school. I hear its influence on The White Stripes especially, with regards to their early records. I hear mid-’90s hippie-soaked San Francisco before the techies ruined it. I see tambourinist Joel Gion in his early twenties tripping out on acid in Golden Gate Park at five in the morning (which really happened).

Most of all, I hear the energy, the sheer rock and roll energy of that record. Despite the existence of Pol Pot’s Pleasure Penthouse, Spacegirl and Other Favorites, and Methodrone, I personally consider Take It From The Man! to be the first “true” Brian Jonestown Massacre record because it was the first one that was made as a record, start to finish, with the band we came to know and love from the film DIG!, which is the triumvirate of leader Anton Newcombe, Joel Gion, and Matt Hollywood.

Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request and Thank God for Mental Illness are included because along with Take It… they form the bedrock of the BJM sound as it had exploded in 1996 across those three records almost simultaneously. But Take It from the Man! is pure rock and roll.

The band were just getting acquainted with then-just-starting-out filmmaker Ondi Timoner, successfully engineered a press war with their old rivals/now friends The Dandy Warhols, and were attracting label interest from the likes of Interscope, Capitol, and TVT, whom they eventually signed with. “Vacuum Boots,” “Who?,” “Caress,” and “Straight Up and Down” are just a few of the great tracks permeating this record with rock and roll fire.

Fun Fact: the album was actually recorded twice, but Anton felt the first try was too slick and he wanted something more authentic to what he was creating. That didn’t end well.

Definitely not a “band” record but equally important to Take It from the Man! in that it was Anton’s first real attempt at taking the sound in the 1960s direction that would define the catalog and the group’s sound would be Satanic over Thank God, which is more of a folk record (due to there being no drummer at the time). A lot of people cite this as their favorite BJM record over Take It from the Man! because of the more psychedelic ’60s slant, even though the three records were made essentially around the same time.

In that sense, these records capture the dying breath of San Francisco’s original psychedelic scene, and that makes them important documents to the history of music, and especially psychedelic rock. When BJM first started, they were more of a shoegaze band, lots of droning guitars over repetitive or electronic beats, much like you hear in later records like My Bloody Underground and Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?

Nothing, of course, on these records or any other tops “Anemone,” the band’s signature song (and also the late Anthony Bourdain’s favorite song ever) from Satanic. For any BJM beginner, these three records are essential.


  1. Give It Back! – 1998

The reason Give It Back! makes the list rather than say, Strung Out in Heaven, is that while Strung Out in Heaven was a promising record, Anton’s heroin use at the time, as well as inter-band, management, and financial problems, tanked whatever potential it had, and along with it whatever momentum the BJM had built up in both the industry and the press.

I always say that despite Strung Out in Heaven being one of the best-recorded, best-sounding BJM records of the 1990s, you can hear that, at best, it’s half-finished. It’s the sound of a shadow, of what that band could have been.

Give It Back! on the other hand is tighter and more cohesive than Strung Out, and really captures the spirit and dynamism of what was going on with the group and their sound at the time, which was right before their first US tour. The group had made the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles, there was a new line-up, and excitement was in the air.

Matt Hollywood’s “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth” particularly captures the rivalry the band were trying to get rolling in the press with their friends The Dandy Warhols, who responded less than enthusiastically. Other classics include “Servo,” “Whoever You Are,” “Satellite,” and “Super-Sonic.”


  1. Bravery, Repetition and Noise – 2001

Despite collapsing after Strung Out and losing their deal with TVT, BJM found traction again with a whole new line-up that could manifest the folk-rock sound Anton had by then fully crafted, as he both influenced and absorbed the scene around him.

Around the late ’90s/early 2000s, the West Coast rock scene was beginning to mine the old sounds of Laurel Canyon, arguably in the same way The Strokes and their ilk were mining the Velvet Underground and Television over on the East Coast. The Brian Jonestown Massacre at that time were simultaneously inspiring, influencing, and leading the Psych Revival alongside bands like Beachwood Sparks, The Warlocks, and Smallstone, and all of these bands would feature each other in their live line-ups or on each other’s records.

For this period of BJM, which is around when Timoner’s DIG! finally came out, it is always a toss-up between this record and their album …And This Is Our Music for me, but when the chips are down, I gotta say Bravery, Repetition, and Noise takes it, almost on the strength of “Nevertheless” alone.

Why? It’s a pivotal, important record that cements the folk-rock psych-rock sound Anton has helped develop ever since, as important a document to Los Angeles as the “1996 Trilogy” is to San Francisco, but even then, the post-punk and shoegaze shades of the group’s earliest years shine through. “Open Heart Surgery” sounds like early Cure, while “Sailor” is a rework of The Cryan’ Shames “The Sailing Ship” but takes it to atmospheric places the band rarely get a chance to explore.

One thing’s for certain. Every city Anton lives in, he has ended up influencing the sound of that city’s scene. First, it was San Francisco. Then, it was Los Angeles. For a brief, brief time he was in New York, but these days he works and lives in Berlin.


  1. Revelation – 2014

Out of all the albums Anton put out last decade, the best is easily Revelation. The first album that Anton made entirely in Berlin, this record represents the perfect fusion of Anton’s more synth-based electronic soundscapes, his signature folk sound, and a couple of rocking bangers that have since become classics. It was also his best since he’d been off hard drugs and quit drinking.

For myself, the reason why this record is so important is that it felt like Anton was really focused on the craft of songwriting again. For the past six, seven years leading up to this record, he’d been experimenting and expanding his art and vision, as he should have been, but nothing was quite as engaging as Revelation, though Aufheben came close.

My go-to track is “What You Isn’t.” It’s an ass-kicking, oddly motivational song. The bluesy-drowsy “Days, Weeks, and Moths” and “Fist Full of Bees” are also staples, but the best track overall, I would argue, is “Food For Clouds,” which has a great guitar tone and different melodic lines winding around each other, making for a rich listen.


  1. Third World Pyramid – 2016

Most BJM fans wouldn’t even include it on their list, but I have a soft spot for Third World Pyramid because it’s the sound of the band I know and followed – Ricky, Collin, Joel – all of whom are on this latest tour.

It’s a solid BJM record among the otherwise lukewarm offerings of the past few years, including the disappointing (to me) The Brian Jonestown Massacre (2019). Listening to Third World Pyramid reminds me of all those concerts from the old days, which I guess in today’s parlance refers to “before the pandemic.” My favorites are the hypnotic “Assignment Song” and “The Sun Ship.”

Like I said, if Anton’s not experimenting as far as he can push himself, the best bet for a solid BJM record is when it’s with a fiery hot band and Anton can layer over or play along as he records and as he sees fit.

All that being said, I am excited for what’s coming next from Anton and his revolving door of collaborators. Recently-released track “The Real” sounds like something from the Give It Back! days, the first time I’ve heard that sound revisited in such closeness, while “Where Do We Go From Here?” revisits Bravery, Repetition and Noise and Thank God for Mental Illness territory.


The next Brian Jonestown Massacre album may very well be their best, but to get the full story on BJM up to this point, newcomers should be sure to watch DIG!, read Keep Music Evil, and binge this playlist.


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Jesse Valencia

Jesse Valencia is an actor, musician, writer, and filmmaker from Northern Arizona whose writing has appeared in Phoenix New Times, Flagstaff Live!, and The Big Smoke. He first appeared onscreen opposite Tom Sizemore in the indie crime drama Durant’s Never Closes, and is currently studying screenwriting at the David Lynch Graduate School for Cinematic Arts at the Maharishi University of Management. He plays music with the band, Gorky, who've put out the records The Gork…And How To Get It!, More Electric Music, and Mathemagician. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Literature from Northern Arizona University, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and is currently at work on his first feature film.