Brant Bjork, Jalamanta & Keep Your Cool: Desert Documents

Posted in Reviews on August 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork jalamanta reissue

It’s hard to speak about Brant Bjork‘s Jalamanta (also discussed here) in anything other than hyperbole. 20 years on from its original release through Man’s Ruin Records, it has become a defining document not just for Bjork‘s own solo work, but for desert rock as a whole, and the laid back vision of heavy it helped establish has had an impact second to none even when set against Brant Bjork‘s own massively influential releases as a member of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. The alliance between Bjork and Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds that produced digital reissues of all his albums continues to bear fruit in the physical realm as well, as in addition to last year’s new studio offering, Mankind Woman (review here), and earlier-2019’s archival-jam collection, Jacoozzi (review here), Jalamanta and 2003’s Keep Your Cool are next in line to receive a proper reissue treatment on vinyl and CD. Both have new artwork in strikingly different styles by Branca Studio and have been remastered, and Jalamanta is a new mix as well from Bjork and original engineer Tony Mason, and also includes the Blue Öyster Cult cover “Take Me Away” as a bonus track, bringing the total runtime to a gatefold 2LP-worthy 66 minutes.

Keep Your Cool doesn’t go nearly so far in terms of needing a second platter to contain it, but by the time Bjork got around to his third solo full-length in the span of four years, he had clearly figured some things out. Listening to the two records back-to-back — with the acknowledgment that 2002’s Brant Bjork & the Operators was originally released between them — the feel of Jalamanta is more mellow funk and more experimental, whether it’s bringing Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli in to play guitar and sing on “Toot” or riding the clarion riff of “Automatic Fantastic” as a bed for spoken verses, running the into “Lazy Bones” backwards later as “Bones Lazy” and lacing tracks like “Sun Brother,” “Cobra Jab” and closer “Indio” with percussion while “Waiting for a Coconut to Drop” offers standalone guitar and the subsequent “Her Blown Blood” bases itself around a riff as driving as Kyuss ever were at their most forceful. The most memorable impressions Jalamanta made/makes might be in the dug-in grooves found in songs like “Automatic Fantastic,” “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” and “Defender of the Oleander,” which set just the right balance between tonal presence, rhythmic swing, memorable craft and drifting melody to become essentially the groundwork for Bjork‘s solo career, of which Mankind Woman was the 12th offering.

Around these, Bjork is able to work to one side or the other, whether that’s the subdued meanderings of “Sun Brother” and “Indio” or the shove in “Low Desert Punk” and “Her Brown Blood.” Between those two sides, one finds a jam like “‘Let’s Get Chinese Eyes'” with its winding and uptempo instrumental progression and newly-refined interplay of guitar layers, while the bonus track cover “Take Me Away” fits right in among the hookier and more rolling material. There remains a natural feel to Jalamanta that has been no less course-setting for Bjork than any other aspect of the record, but with Keep Your Cool, the narrative shifts to a more solidified approach to songwriting and a willful-seeming blend of hard funk and heavy rock that became the embodiment of “low desert punk” as Bjork‘s own term for his style as he embarked in the early aughts on releasing albums through his own Duna Records imprint, Keep Your Cool being the second such outing behind Brant Bjork & the Operators, as well as an early reissue of Jalamanta.

brant bjork keep your cool

The question isn’t really of accessibility, since it’s not like Brant Bjork‘s solo work has ever veered from engaging its audience, but even with the kind-of-sad intro “Hey, Monkey Boy” at the outset, there’s no question Keep Your Cool puts its hooks in forward position, with “Johnny Called,” “Rock-n-Rolé” and “I Miss My Chick” following in succession ahead of the title-track’s two-minute departure into guitar-led desert wandering. But even that seems pared down in comparison to Jalamanta; a more straightforward sonic persona emerging, less trying-it-out and more executing a plan. Consider Keep Your Cool as a two-sided album, with “Hey, Monkey Boy” and the title-track as intros for sides A and B, respectively. The track breakdown is even with four and four, and the salvo that “Johnny Called” begins earns the reissue all on its own, with stage-ready memorable songwriting and a sure-headed conviction of method that Jalamanta — despite its many splendors — simply doesn’t have. There’s a tradeoff, because Keep Your Cool is inherently less experimental, but certainly there’s room in Bjork‘s solo catalog for both sides to find expression as they have for the last two decades.

Side B of Keep Your Cool continues the thread where “I Miss My Chick” left it, wah and handclaps filling out a core riff that is no less quintessential Brant Bjork than that of “Automatic Fantastic,” while “Searchin'” delves deeper into funky vibes with more upfront drums and a spacey guitar line later in the proceedings. The chorus may not be as forward, but the palette is expanding efficiently. One could argue that that started on “I Miss My Chick,” but the second half of the album lives up to the tradition of answering the hooks of the first with a broader reach. That remains true as closer “My Soul” finds its ultra-fluid chill and rolls out across nearly seven minutes that go from a straight-ahead verse/chorus to a finale guitar exploration that, indeed, lives up to the name of the track itself.

Brant Bjork would follow Keep Your Cool with Local Angel (discussed here; reissue review here) in 2004 and seem to pick up precisely where “My Soul” leaves off, but the narrative arc of his solo and solo-ish discography isn’t necessarily so linear, with work in and out of bandleader situations — Brant Bjork and the Bros.Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band — as well as his time with groups like the sadly-shortlived Ché and Vista Chino, despite a consistent growth and refinement of his craft that continues unabated. Quite simply, Jalamanta is a top-three all-time desert rock record, minimum. For even the most cursory exploration of the style, it is essential. Keep Your Cool doesn’t have the same kind of legacy behind it, but its songs show the direction Bjork was taking at the time and more than stand up to the 16 years since their original release. Neither accomplishment is insignificant, and if these reissues expose them to a new audience or give established fans another version of the record to chase down, there’s really no way to lose by having them back in print and fresh in mind.

Brant Bjork, Keep Your Cool (2003/2019)

Brant Bjork, Jalamanta (1999/2019)

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Brant Bjork Announces East Coast Tour with Ecstatic Vision

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork

I’ve been biding my time waiting to unleash a golly-BrantBjork-is-awesome-type review of the reissues of his first two solo albums that Heavy Psych Sounds has put and is putting out, and mark my words, I’ll get there by the time the Man Himself comes to play my beloved Garden State on Sept. 20. Brant Bjork, in New Jersey? I feel like I have a moral imperative to be there — and so do you, frankly. It’s not the kind of thing that happens every day, month, year, etc., so yeah, mark the calendar for it. All the better that the tour is with Heavy Psych Sounds labelmates Ecstatic Vision, whose new record For the Masses will also be out by then. Sometimes it just works. All of it. And it’s amazing how many of those times seem to involve Brant Bjork one way or the other.

Of course, Bjork and his band were just in Europe playing fests and supporting their earlier-2019 release, Jacoozzi (review here), of archived instrumental jams that followed 2018’s Mankind Woman (review here), his debut on Heavy Psych Sounds after completing a three-album deal with Napalm Records. Not a bummer in the bunch.

Here are the dates as posted by the label:

BRANT BJORK tour

*** BRANT BJORK – US TOUR 2019 ***

+Ecstatic Vision

Our desert rock legend Brant Bjork will tour US in September, supported by Ecstatic Vision !!! Don’t miss them..

BRANT BJORK US TOUR 2019

9/12 – St Louis, MO @ The Firebird
9/13 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Citadel Music Hall
9/14 – Youngstown, OH @ Westside Bowl
9/15 – Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
9/16 – Columbus, OH @ Woodlands Tavern
9/17 – Buffalo, NY @ Iron Works
9/18 – Boston, MA @ The Middle East Upstairs
9/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Kingsland
9/20 – Teaneck, NJ @ Debonair Music Hall
9/21 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
9/22 – Providence, RI @ Dusk
9/23 – New Haven, CT @ The State House
9/24 – Brattleboro, VT @ The Stone Church
9/25 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
9/26 – Detroit, MI @ The Magic Bag
9/27 – Chicago, IL @ Reggies
9/28 – Milwaukee, WI @ Walker’s Point Music Hall

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Brant Bjork, Jalamanta (1999)

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Brant Bjork to Reissue Jalamanta Sept. 13 on Heavy Psych Sounds

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

What, you thought Heavy Psych Sounds was going to embark on a series of Brant Bjork reissues and not do the one that started it all? Of course not. Originally released in 1999 through Man’s Ruin Records, Jalamanta (discussed here) is top-five all-time pivotal desert rock releases, if not top three, and its enduring relevance not only to Bjork‘s work but for the slew of others he’s influenced speaks for itself. Presented with a new mix by Bjork and Tony Mason and a fresh master from John McBain, as well as new cover art, it’s just one of the best records ever to come out of the Californian desert. That’s all. No big deal.

Except it is a big deal. Preorders start later this week, as the PR wire tells it:

brant bjork jalamanta reissue

*** BRANT BJORK – JALAMANTA *** Reissue for the 20th Anniversary – remastered/remixed version

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 13th
PRESALE STARTS: MAY 23rd

It’s been 20 glory years when desert rock icon, BRANT BJORK, released his first solo album Jalamanta.

2019 will see the Kyuss and Fu Manchu- legend celebrate his 20th anniversary in style, when he will re-release his pathbreaking, cult album Jalamanta on September 13rd with Heavy Psych Sounds Records!

Recorded by Tony Mason at Rancho De La Luna, Joshua Tree, California, in February 1999 and produced by BRANT BJORK, Jalamanta still belongs to the most distinctive desert rock records of all time.

“Jalamanta was a life changing record for me. It’s the record that launched my journey as Brant Bjork.“ he comments. “Listening to the tapes 20 years later was amazing. Tony Mason and myself were transported back to that moment in time. Jalamanta was a first for both Tony and myself. My first record as a solo artist and his first record as an engineer. We didn’t think twice about re-mixing it. With our combined experience over the years, we knew we could take Jalamanta to the place we always wanted it to go. And we did. Dig it.“

Jalamanta has been re-mixed by Tony Mason, with a freshly baked re-master by John McBain at JPM Mastering, San Francisco. New cover art by Branca Studio. Heavy Psych Sounds is proud to start the pre-order of this timeless classic on May 23rd, in the following available album formats:

RELEASED IN DOUBLE GATEFOLD VINYL IN :
45 ULTRA LTD TEST PRESS VINYL
250 LTD WHITE SPLATTER RAINBOW VINYL
250 LTD WHITE MARBLED PURPLE VINYL
600 SOLID YELLOW VINYL
BLACK VINYL
DIGIPAK
DIGITAL

TRACKLIST
1. Lazy Bones
2. Automatic Fantastic
3. Cobra Jab
4. Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians
5. Sun Brother
6. “Let’s Get Chinese Eyes”
7. Toot
8. Defender Of The Oleander
9. Bones Lazy
10. Low Desert Punk
11. Waiting For A Coconut To Drop
12. Her Brown Blood
13. Indio
14. Take Me Away ( Blue Oyster Cult cover )

Brant Bjork live:
19.06.19 – Nuremberg | Hirsch (DE)
20.06.19 – Netphen | Freak Valley Festival (DE)
21.06.19 – Nijmegen | Doornrosje (NL)
22.06.19 – Tunbridge Wells | Black Deer Festival (UK)
23.06.19 – Izel | La Fete De La Musique (BE)
24.06.19 – Aachen | Musikbunker (DE)
25.06.19 – Darmstadt | Centralstation (DE)
26.06.19 – Hannover | Musikzentrum (DE)
27.06.19 – Saarbrücken | Garage (DE)
28.06.19 – Düdingen | Bad Bonn (CH)
29.06.19 – Salzburg | Rockhouse (AT)
30.06.19 – Korinthos | Under The Sun Festival (GR)
02.07.19 – Thessaloniki | Eightball Club (GR)
04.07.19 – Viveiro | Resurrection Festival (ES)

Brant is still promoting his 13th solo album, “Mankind Woman”, which will was released via Heavy Psych Sounds in September.

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Brant Bjork, Jalamanta (1999)

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Friday Full-Length: Brant Bjork, Jalamanta

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 5th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Brant Bjork, Jalamanta (1999)

Yeah, I know I’ve written about this record a lot over the years. Some albums you just keep going back to, and for me, Brant Bjork‘s 1999 solo debut, Jalamanta, is one of those. Released by Man’s Ruin Records, it was the first time the then-Fu Manchu drummer had stepped out to do something on his own, and the vibe he captured on these tracks continues to resonate, songs like “Automatic Fantastic,” “Defender of the Oleander,” “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” and of course “Low Desert Punk” becoming staple examples of what desert rock has become, but the way Bjork builds off those sounds, the low-end funk of “Cobra Jab,” the primo rock of “Toot” (on which Mario Lalli makes a guest appearance), and so on, it makes the listening experience that much richer in taking the album on front-to-back. The Man’s Ruin bio for it called it, “12 tracks of ghetto vibe wonder,” which is fair enough, but it’s the individual mash of influences and Bjork‘s willingness to account for them all while making them his own that results in both the vibe and the wonder, ghetto or not.

Jalamanta has been reissued a couple times through Bjork‘s own Duna Records imprint since the dissolution of Man’s Ruin, and rightfully so. It remains a vital piece of his discography, and the one-man jams he sets up on songs like “Sun Brother” and “Let’s Get Chinese Eyes” go far in setting the course for what his songwriting produces to this day. When it originally came out, in Oct. 1999, Bjork was already several years removed from his tenure in Kyuss, though he’d also appeared alongside former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme on Desert Sessions Vol. 5 and 6, also released by Man’s RuinFu Manchu, whose ranks he’d joined prior to 1997’s The Action is Go, were just months away from putting out King of the Road, and in 2000, Bjork would unite with Alfredo Hernandez, who replaced him in Kyuss and had just finished playing with Queens of the Stone Age, and Unida‘s Dave Dinsmore in the short-lived trio Ché, whose only album, Sounds of Liberation, presaged some of what Bjork‘s songwriting would manifest with some of his backing bands, be it The Bros. on 2007’s Somera Sól or the currently-active Low Desert Punk Band, whose Black Power Flower (review here) was released this year on Napalm Records and in whose lineup Bjork has reunited with Dave Dinsmore.

For me, Jalamanta has always been a summer album, but I hope you’ll indulge the bit of climatic wishful thinking on my part, and please enjoy.

Quick week, or maybe I’m just still recovering from Thanksgiving last week/weekend. Either way, we’re starting to wind down the year, so in addition to the usual bout of reviews and such — I think I’m going to go see Kind in Allston next week, and I’ll be at at least one of the two YOB shows in Brooklyn next weekend, if not both — I’ll be starting wrapup coverage, lists and such. Putting up the Readers Poll on Monday was just the start, and huge thanks to everyone who’s submitted a list so far for that, but starting next week we’ll dig deeper into what will probably still just be a fraction of how much I’d actually like to do. I also need to get my own top albums of the year together, which I’ve been putting off though I think I have the top five in place and proper order.

I teased a year-end podcast as well, and I’ll have that coming soon too, though it would have to be 10 hours long to cover all the excellent stuff that came out this year — and I promise you I’m not going to do a 10-hour podcast. I’ll whittle it down as best as I can, and even if it’s not next week, it’ll be up sometime soon. Obviously before the New Year, and likely before Xmas as well.

This week, I not only flaked on posting the Alunah interview, because I suck, but reviewing the Wounded Giant/Goya split as well. I’ll attempt to correct, but the stacks of CDs people have sent in sitting on my desk is starting to weigh pretty heavy on my soul as we get down to the wire on 2014, so other stuff might have to take a backseat for a bit. I’d love to find some way to do a roundup and give some cursory glance at records, but I’m not sure what that looks like or how it would come together in a way that doesn’t destroy all of my available time. It’s not something I’ve ever been able to make function, and I’ve tried. I still try from time to time. Not enough hours in the day for all the rock and roll, and though I work against it, I continue to need at least a little sleep each night.

First World problems, I guess, and there’s been plenty lately to remind me of just how privileged an existence I lead, despite all my miserable-bastard mopery. I hope wherever you’re at, you can feel safe.

Be well, have a great weekend and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Brant Bjork, Jalamanta

Posted in Features on July 23rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

When Man’s Ruin Records was getting ready to put out 1999’s Jalamanta, the first solo album from former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork, they said in the album bio that it was “Psychedelic, soulful, organic, sexy…” and that “Man’s Ruin considers this one of their most interesting releases to date,” citing the likes of War as inspiration. Throughout the years and many subsequent solo offerings since, funk has always remained an essential part of Brant Bjork‘s work, and that ultra-grooving, ultra-warm low end is part of what makes Jalamanta a perfect summertime record, as well as the quintessential desert rock release.

The other part is the laid back vibe that Bjork constructs out of that low end. From the very start of “Lazy Bones” and “Automatic Fantastic,” Jalamanta bleeds cool. It’s a record that’s had untold influence on the current heavy rock scene — especially in Europe; one can hear shades of jams like “‘Let’s Get Chinese Eyes'” or “Defender of the Oleander” across a wide swath of bands — and its psychedelic elements only added mystique to the sun-baked atmosphere. Not to discount anything Kyuss did, but Jalamanta sounds even more purely of the desert, and if the song “Low Desert Punk” is anything to go by, Bjork knew exactly what he was doing and the sound he was embodying when he made it.

And while Brant Bjork would go on to become the godfather of desert rock and Jalamanta would in large part define the course of his career as a solo songwriter — a career that seemed to be sidetracked following a label deal with Napalm Records last year by the emergence of Kyuss Lives!, whose fate remains uncertain pending litigation — the album’s appeal isn’t necessarily limited to its geography. Sure, it’s low desert punk, but for example, right now it’s so humid outside my office that if you moved your arms the right way you could do a breast stroke through the air, and Jalamanta proves a perfect fit for Jersey’s perma-haze as well.

The album was reissued on Bjork‘s own Duna Records in 2003 (minus the Mario Lalli-fronted “Toot”) and again by his next label incarnation, Low Desert Punk (with that track restored and a bonus Blue Öyster Cult cover) on vinyl in 2009, and the original is out there on the secondary market, so Jalamanta is around, but if like me you’re too paralyzed by the heat to move and check it out, here’s “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” courtesy of the YouTubes:

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