"Tepid Peppermint Wonderland:
"We Are the Radio"
THE QUARTER AFTER
"The Quarter After"
In part because of a recent documentary, "Dig!," Brian Jonestown Massacre mainstay Anton Newcombe has a reputation as a wild man. The California band's neopsychedelic rock, however, is not such a crazy trip. The 38 songs compiled on "Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective" validate the two-CD set's title. "Tepid" is a harsh verdict on the Massacre's synthesis of circa 1966 Byrds and circa 1967 Rolling Stones, but, hey -- they said it, not me.
The collection includes such attention-getting titles as "Prozac vs. Heroin" and "Not if You Were the Last Dandy on Earth," a reference to the Massacre's supposed feud with the Dandy Warhols. The music, however, is more of a giggle than a shock. Connoisseurs of the period that inspired most of the Massacre's style will be amused that the band draws so heavily on "Their Satanic Majesties Request," the '60s Stones album that Stones diehards tend not to like. Newcombe and his ever-shifting crew of collaborators also borrow from the rootsier Stones, the Velvet Underground and -- just to prove that they didn't sleep through the '80s -- the Cure. Whatever its sources, the group's woozy mid-tempo rock is reliably skillful, melodic and secondhand.
The Massacre's latest release, "We Are the Radio," is a five-song mini-album that finds the band wandering the same old wonderland. The title of the opening tune advises "Never Become Emotionally Attached to Man, Woman, Beast or Child" but doesn't say anything about Roger McGuinn guitar riffs, to which Newcombe remains deeply committed. Synthesizers are prominent on several tracks, including a spacey instrumental, but the jangle and drone of such songs as "God Is My Girlfriend" indicate that the band's time machine remains stalled sometime during LBJ's presidency.
Among the Massacre's many alumni is Robert Campanella, now of the Quarter After, an L.A. quartet that sounds even more like the Byrds than the guitarist-keyboardist's previous group. While the style is familiar, the band's self-titled debut album is generally tighter and more disciplined than the Massacre's output. Such songs as "Always Returning" are gem-bright simulations of the '60s folk-rock sound, updated ever-so-slightly with more emphatic guitar work. The musicians do occasionally shift into extended and unremarkable vamps, but so long as they stick with pithy Byrds knockoffs, "The Quarter After" is a modest delight.
The harmonica howl that opens Innaway's self-titled album promises retro blues-rock, and traces of that style can be heard in such songs as "Stolen Days." But this south-of-L.A. quintet deals primarily in psychedelia, and not exclusively of the '60s variety. Alternating lullaby melodies with grungy instrumental passages, the band shows an affinity for My Bloody Valentine and also ventures into abstract electronica and jazzy neo-prog-rock. (The album was mixed by an expert in the latter, Tortoise's John McEntire.) "Innaway" doesn't always assemble these ingredients coherently, but the album's best moments are more than deft repackaging.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Thursday at DC9.