Right from the opening track, “Flustrated,” it’s clear Dali’s Llama are having fun with their latest offering, Howl Do You Do? (released through their own Dali’s Llama Records). Maybe after eight records of straight up desert rock, the Zach Huskey-led Palm Springs, California, outfit decided it was time to try something else – and who could blame them for that? They’ve been kicking out fuzzy jams with such regularity that the routine was bound to wear them down, so a turn to garage rock and horror punk is probably just what the band needed to shake things up. A lot of their bluesy core is still in tact, but if all you know of Dali’s Llama is what they’ve done the last several years – records like Sweet Sludge, Full on Dunes and Raw is Real – Howl Do You Do? is bound to be something of a surprise.
The organ features heavily on songs like “She’s My Halloween” and “Flash Flood, Flash Flood,” played by Mikael Jacobson, who joins Zach, bassist Erica Huskey, guitarist Joe Dillon and drummer Craig Brown (all of whom also contribute backing vocals), but I tend to return more to the piano-laced sounds of the title track, which has a more blues-driven feel to it than the camp spookiness of the horror punk material. Just a personal preference. Huskey’s songwriting, probably the central driving force within Dali’s Llama, is strong as ever, though it should be noted the structures of the songs haven’t really changed so much from the band’s last couple full-lengths, just the genre play. It’s like Dali’s Llama have put on a costume – a Halloween costume, appropriately enough. Underneath, they’re still who they are, but they’re playing the part of a garage horror punk band for an album. Howl Do You Do? was probably a lot of fun to make.
As the album progresses and “I’m the Trouble” gives way to “Flash Flood, Flash Flood,” setting up the back half’s five tracks, you begin to get more into the groove and intent of it. I’m not saying Howl Do You Do? is going to be everyone’s favorite Dali’s Llama record, because it probably won’t, but if the Huskeys and Co. want to have fun and explore a different side of their influences, it’s not like they’re hurting anyone. And the bouncing organ lines of “Hortense” make the track an album highlight, playing off the song’s central riff as they do, so even if you’re used to Dali’s Llama’s usual approach, there’s going to be something here to cling to. The short, garage-y bluster of “You Can by My Zoo” has Iggy Pop all over it, and “Infected with the Blues Again” balances the different sides of the band best of any track on the record. By the time the closing couplet of “Masochist” and the just under 10 minute finale “Plaid Rainbow” (bonus points for the awesomeness of that title) come around, Howl Do You Do?’s charm has won me over. I don’t know if I’ll pick it off my shelf instead of Full on Dunes or Raw is Real, but I’m on its side, anyway.
There are a couple minutes of silence (split up over a few tracks) after “Plaid Rainbow,” and then there comes an acoustic blues piece by Huskey that’s my favorite moment of the record. It doesn’t fit with the theme of the album, so I can understand why they buried it, but I hope it inspires further material in that style, because it works within Dali’s Llama very well to offset some of the raucousness that’s come before. Howl Do You Do? was produced by Jacobson, Zach and Erica Huskey, which in itself is a departure from the last few albums being recorded by Scott Reeder, and though I don’t think the recording is holding the songs back, the album does feel like it’s not as loud as it should be to start with. Nonetheless, the whole point of Howl Do You Do? is to have a good time, so I’m not going to get bogged down with these kinds of issues. It’s not what you’d expect, but taken with an open mind (and maybe a grain of salt), it’s easy to call the experiment a success. Dali’s Llama put out eight records before this one, and asked practically no indulgence on the part of their audience in the process. If Howl Do You Do? is the tradeoff for that, consider it a bargain.California, Dali's Llama, Dali's Llama Records, Palm Springs