Friday Full-Length: Brant Bjork, Local Angel

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Brant Bjork, Local Angel (2004)

I bought this album from the Duna Records website when it came out in 2004. I remember it because I had dug Brant Bjork and the Operators and Keep Your Cool and waited for Local Angel to come out, and when it did, and it showed up in its glossy digipak, I don’t think I completely got the vibe at first, but I knew I liked it, a lot, and it’s been a record I’ve gone back to periodically ever since. The digipak is still in pretty good shape too.

Brant Bjork would shortly go on to form Brant Bjork and the Bros. and release the double-album Saved by Magic, and his next solo outing was the acoustic Tres Dias in 2007, but until that came out with its sometimes-I-sit-in-a-field-with-a-guitar vibe, Local Angel was the most peaceful, intimate vibe Brant Bjork had put on a full-length, and it was a record that showed that you could take a desert groove to places that most people probably wouldn’t think of as heavy and make it work. Or that Brant Bjork could do it, anyway. I haven’t heard too many others try and put the same kind of soul influence into what they were doing and make it work as well as the folk of “Beautiful Powers,” the classic rock of “The Feelin’” or the laid back psychedelic funk of “Hippie.” From “Chico” to “Spanish Tiles” and the covers of “Hey Joe” and The Ramones‘ “I Want You Around,” Local Angel was a spirit that even Brant Bjork never really went back to. It stands alone in his catalog and outside of it.

Part of that is the simple method of double-tracking the vocals over acoustic guitar, the in-and-out of the drums, and particularly compared to later work like 2007′s Somera Sól and 2010′s Gods and Goddesses — his most recent solo outing — much more of an individual feel as opposed to a band presence. So cool. So smooth.

Hope you dig it.

Tonight The Patient Mrs. and I went down to New Bedford, about an hour away, to see William Shatner‘s one-man show. Ever since I finished watching the original Star Trek series, we’ve been on a pretty big kick, making our way through the first seven movies and starting in on The Next Generation and the animated series as well as some of Shatner‘s Trek-centric documentaries like The Captains. All that stuff is on Netflix so it’s pretty accessible, and there’s a lot of it. Shatner’s World, though, which is the name of the one-man show, was awesome. I laughed, I held back tears as he played a clip of an introduction he recorded for the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery, I laughed more when he talked about recording an album with Ben Folds. It was very, very cool, and though it’s a balmy 9 degrees out, well worth leaving the house. I may or may not review it on Monday. I paid for the tickets and got shot down for a photo pass, so I hardly feel obligated, but it might be fun anyway.

This week I reviewed five albums. Last Friday, I laid out the next five reviews I wanted to do — Weedpecker, Colour Haze, Conan, Mammatus and Papir, in that order — and this week I fucking did it. I can’t remember the last time I reviewed five albums in the same week. It’s been at least a year. It felt good, even if it didn’t leave me much time for anything else. Next week I want to try something different. I’ve got a little stack of stuff that’s been around for a while and I’d like to try putting together a roundup that’s somewhere between the Reviewsplosion-style 100-word stuff I’ve done a couple times and the 1,000-ish words (I’ve actually been trying to cut that down too) that a lot of records seem to get around here. Seems like an interesting challenge to try to say everything I want to say about an album in 300 words, still try to convey some of what I perceive of the spirit of the thing in that limited space. Trying to hone a more efficient approach, in other words. I’m still going to do larger-form reviews as well, but maybe once I week or once every couple weeks I squeeze in a roundup of stuff I might not otherwise have room for and at the same time force myself a little bit out of my run-on-sentence comfort zone. I’ll give it a shot this week and see how it goes, and look out for a Green Dragon tape review, a review of the live Leaf Hound record that Ripple put out, the new The Wounded Kings and other stuff as well.

Wherever you are tonight, I hope it’s more than 9 degrees and that you’re grooving out easy on the Brant Bjork and there’s no drama where you don’t want it and that all is cool. We’re coming to the end of January, so I’m thinking about the anniversary of this site, and it’s a big one. I don’t have anything really on tap to celebrate — as I see it, the way you celebrate working on something is by working on it — but we’ll mark the occasion this week anyway, though I think posts might be light on Friday otherwise. We’ll see how it goes.

Have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk Forum

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brant Bjork

Posted in Questionnaire on January 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Brant Bjork is the godfather of desert rock. As drummer and co-songwriter in Kyuss, he anchored some of the thickest and most influential grooves the world has ever known. Landmark albums like 1992′s Blues for the Red Sun and 1994′s Welcome to Sky Valley are not only genre staples, but have become the measure by which the bulk of the desert-influenced heavy is measured. Ceaselessly creative, Bjork joined Fu Manchu, whose 1994 debut he co-produced, for their The Action is Go, Eatin’ Dust, King of the Road and California Crossing albums between 1997 and 2001, also putting out the cult hit Sounds of Liberation with the short-lived Ché trio in 2000 and in that same period embarking on a solo career that to-date has resulted in 10 albums, 1999′s debut, Jalamanta, setting the course with what would become a signature blend of funk, soul, punk and heavy rock.

Bjork joined former Kyuss bandmates John Garcia and Nick Oliveri in Kyuss Lives! in late 2010, and after a lawsuit and name change (more on that in this interview), Vista Chino emerged to release one of 2013′s best albums in the form of Peace (review here) on Napalm Records, the touring cycle for which will take the lineup of Bjork, Garcia, guitarist Bruno Fevery and bassist Mike Dean (also of C.O.C.) to Australia’s Big Day Out this month. A funk-influenced instrumental solo album, Jakoozi, was also mixed last summer and is expected for a 2014 release.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brant Bjork

How did you come to do what you do?

I was born with a genuine love of music. Growing up, discovering The Ramones and punk rock in general, gave me the courage to try playing music myself. It turned out I had some natural talent as well as a strong conviction to continue doing the thing I love most.

Describe your first musical memory.

When I was a little kid, I had this Fisher Price record player that my mom gave me, along with a stack of 45s. One day I went through the stack and picked one because of the attractive orange and yellow label. It was the Capitol Records label and it was a Beatles 45. It had “Help” on side 1 and “I’m Down” on the B-side. I put it on and John Lennon began to scream “help!” at me through the tiny little speaker. It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know music could, would or even should sound like that.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

September 18, 1987. It was the first real concert outside of the desert I ever saw. The Ramones, in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium, I was 14 years old. It was also Dee Dee Ramone’s birthday that night and to make things super rad, my first son, Swan, was born on September 18, 2010!

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I always had a firm belief that The Stooges, the MC5 and The Ramones were the most radical bands of their time and they were releasing the best and most influential records of their time as well. This belief was tested after I bought and listened to the release of Death’s record, For the Whole World to See… a record that was recorded in 1974 but shelved until its release in 2009. This record is so good; I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It’s almost hard to imagine what might have happened to rock and roll music, or even music in general had this record came out and the band had evolved. Unbelievable.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

For me, there is no destination for an artist. I would define artistic progression as a journey of experiencing your life as one of creativity. If you’re a genuine artist I think it simply leads to more art.

How do you define success?

To me, success is the result of looking at your current life situation and not having to wonder how the hell you got there.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

While on tour last month, I battled some boredom by watching the Star Wars sequel, Attack of the Clones. Holy moly. Super bummer. George Lucas should be ashamed of himself. And I thought Return of the Jedi was bad.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

Even though I’m a musician and music is a part of my daily life, I find myself spending a lot of my time thinking about stories. About five years ago I started studying and practicing screenplay writing. I write a lot when I’m on tour… so much time on planes and buses, etc. I have a dream of creating and finishing a rad screenplay and having it picked up for a feature movie. I wouldn’t mind directing the movie as well but you know…. one dream at a time.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

A night without the kids and a nice romantic dinner with my wife at our favorite Italian restaurant in Santa Monica.

Vista Chino, “Sweet Remain” official video

Brant Bjork’s website

Vista Chino on Thee Facebooks

Napalm Records

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Vista Chino Interview with Brant Bjork: Peace and Progress

Posted in Features on September 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m going to go on a limb here and say that while it wasn’t their first choice and something that was brought about through a lawsuit from former bandmates, the name change that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was a good thing. My reasoning is simple. Kyuss is a set entity. It’s in stone. It’s done. It’s been done for over 15 years now. There’s a legacy born out of the California desert that’s influenced thousands upon thousands of bands, and without Kyuss, that just doesn’t happen. They were an integral part of setting forth a movement in heavy rock that continues to this day.

The difference is they were and Vista Chino are. Even if vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork — who toured and wrote songs together as Kyuss Lives! – had been able to continue using that or just the straight-up Kyuss name, they’d be setting themselves up to fail, because even if original guitarist Josh Homme – who along with former bassist Scott Reeder brought the lawsuit that was settled with the moniker switch– had returned to the fold and they’d worked with the same lineup that resulted in 1992′s Blues for the Red Sun, it never would’ve been the same. It may have been conflict that birthed it, but with the Napalm Records release this week of Peace (review here) as the first Vista Chino studio album, Garcia, Bjork and Fevery (Oliveri having left after recording his bass parts) are moving forward in a way Kyuss wouldn’t have been able to do.

It’s a question of freedom, ultimately, and where any output under the Kyuss banner would’ve resulted in an endless stream of comparisons set to the impossible standard of a decade and a half of lionization, Vista Chino are free to progress, both on a career level and creatively. Peace finds Bjork taking lead vocals on “Planets 1 & 2,” something that never happened in Kyuss (though certainly it’s happened plenty since), and works off a different, new instrumental chemistry and playing style from Fevery. The record isn’t about capturing something that used to exist and doesn’t anymore, and at its heart, that’s why it succeeds. I’m not sure Peace would’ve worked as a Kyuss album, but for Vista Chino, it stands not only as an excellent debut but a potential-filled sign of things to come. It makes the listener look forward to what could be and not back to what was.

So while it may have been plenty ugly getting to this point and of course no one knows what days ahead might bring, Peace establishes Vista Chino as a band with both a past and a future. In the interview that follows here, Brant Bjork discusses some of those prospects, particularly as relates to bringing in bassist Mike Dean from C.O.C. to fill the position vacated by Oliveri and held for a brief stretch by Billy Cordell, and also creating music for the first time alongside Fevery, the legal tribulations that made Vista Chino who they are, his relationship to Vista Chino as opposed to Kyuss, when he knew that Kyuss Lives! would result in new material, the group’s plans after the US tour they’ll soon start and much more. As he spoke, I could hear a desert wind come through the line in the background.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Vista Chino, Peace: The Desert was Our Home

Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Vista Chino has been a curious proposition from the start. As far as reunions go, I think even the members of Vista Chino would have to admit the circumstances that have led to their studio full-length debut, Peace (Napalm Records) have been convoluted and probably far less than ideal. What began as a Kyuss revitalization in the form of the John Garcia-fronted Garcia Plays Kyuss at the 2010 Roadburn festival and gradually morphed into tours with former Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri (also Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator) and drummer Brant Bjork (also Brant Bjork and the Bros., Che) with guitarist Bruno Fevery under the moniker Kyuss Lives!, Vista Chino wound up becoming Vista Chino as a result of a lawsuit that had former Kyuss guitarist Joshua Homme (who went on to bone fide rock stardom in Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist Scott Reeder as its plaintiffs. In this context, it’s just as easy to read the album title Peace as a desperate plea as a relieved exhale. Perhaps it’s both. Whatever the case, this multi-tiered clusterfuck born out of the original reunion spearheaded by Garcia, initially on his own with members of European acts (including the Belgian-born Fevery), has led to new band Vista Chino Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri (who plays on the album but has been replaced live by C.O.C. bassist Mike Dean) and Bjork — making their first record as the inheritors of the Kyuss legacy, which presented in the massive influence of the three studio albums after their 1991 Wretch debut — Blues for the Red Sun (1992), Welcome to Sky Valley (officially a self-titled; 1994), and the ominously-titled …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995) — is indisputably the largest in the genre of desert rock. This is no small challenge, but whatever else Peace is able to accomplish over the course of its 49 minutes and 10 tracks split just about evenly time-wise to allow for vinyl sides, it maintains an element of consciousness throughout of the context in which it arrives. Then it sidesteps it and rocks out with abandon.

However a Kyuss reunion might’ve played out in a perfect world, Vista Chino, who recorded Peace at Thunder Underground in Palm Springs, handled the task before them the only way they could; they wrote a collection of honest songs that didn’t outwardly try to recapture what Kyuss was in its heyday, but invariably showed flashes of that owing to the involvement of Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri and the effect that being in Kyuss has had on their lives, better and worse. Perhaps most pivotal to the album’s ultimate success, nobody throughout Vista Chino‘s debut is doing an impression either of Homme‘s tone or his songwriting methodology. If anything, the name change brought on by legal mandate has allowed the group to begin the establishment of a new musical identity, and though Fevery‘s tone is rife with desert-styled fuzz, his manner of play particularly in the leads here and his handling of the riffs throughout is his own. Maybe that new identity wasn’t what Vista Chino were looking to do when they started out as Kyuss Lives!, but it’s where they ended up all the same. The closest Vista Chino comes to directly referencing Kyuss on Peace is probably in the central riff of “Planets 1 & 2,” which seems to be nodding at “Green Machine” from Blues for the Red Sun — but even there, the band finds personality of its own as Bjork steps in to share vocal duties with Garcia, something that, though he contributed to the songwriting all along while he was in Kyuss (he left prior to the last album), he never did before. Likewise, songs like “As You Wish” and the sweetly open-spaced “Barcelonian” showcase a laid back heft that, though Kyuss touched on at times and one could easily argue had a hand in pioneering, is more mature in its presentation and sense of purpose than the members of Vista Chino could’ve been at a younger age. The inevitable tradeoff is that it’s not new anymore and that Vista Chino inherently cannot instantly show up and invent desert rock the way Kyuss is often credited with doing (of course the reality is more complex than the narrative; see also “Black Sabbath invented heavy metal”). It’s already been done.

How do you, in putting tracks together, ignore that and proceed to make a record? I don’t know. And I don’t know what the division of songwriting labor on Peace was between Bjork, Garcia, Fevery and Oliveri, how much of the album was written separately as opposed to together in a rehearsal space or in the studio, but at some point, these players stopped looking back at what Kyuss was able to spearhead and started looking forward at what Vista Chino might be able to do to make a mark on the form. That could be something as simple as the jam from which the shuffle of the later “Dark and Lovely” resulted, maybe. What matters is, it happened, and however a given listener might feel about the circumstances by which Vista Chino became Vista Chino, it’s to the ultimate benefit of Peace that they did. To call these Kyuss songs would be to set a standard in the mind of anyone hearing them with a clue as to who Kyuss was that they invariably couldn’t meet. Peace probably wouldn’t work as a fifth Kyuss outing. As the first Vista Chino, it not only affirms the relevance in the craft and performance of the band, but it gives them a starting point from which they can expand on subsequent outings should they choose to do so, free of the restraints that an idea of “what Kyuss should sound like” might otherwise place on them. Had Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork started out under the new name, it wouldn’t even be a matter of discussion. It’s fascinating to think of that as the feedback intro “Good Morning Wasteland” gives way to the driving “Dargona Dragona,” which is Peace‘s first impression on the listener. An album that only gets stronger and more complex as it plays out, “Dargona Dragona” provides Peace a mostly straightforward beginning, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork starting out instrumentally before Garcia joins on vocals. When he does, his voice is more blown-out sounding than anywhere else on the record, presented with a kind of compression that cuts through the otherwise natural-sounding tones for the “ooh-ahh” chorus and seems high in the mix as a result. Though on the subsequent “Sweet Remain,” he pushes his range to what seems like as high and as guttural as it will go, on “Dargona Dragona,” the vocals are almost abrasive, even as the swirl and richness of fuzz the rest of the band creates is just beginning to establish itself.

That can, for the first several listens, be off-putting — or at very least, off-throwing; which may well have been Vista Chino‘s intent — but it’s easy enough to get used to, and both the verses and chorus are memorable enough that the quality of track outshines any puzzling aspects of its presentation. The aforementioned “Sweet Remain” follows with Bjork setting the beat on drums as Fevery joins with a layered riff and winding lead while Oliveri rumbles with characteristic and creative fills underneath and Garcia recounts through the chorus lyrics what reads like a direct reference to the band’s legal struggles — “And they lost their souls/When they lost their way/Yeah, we fight to the bone/But the spirit remains” (or thereabouts). After work in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and guest spots on countless other bands’ albums across the world, John Garcia sounds perhaps most at home in these songs as he has since Kyuss‘ initial run (though I’ll gladly champion his performances in the other acts noted as well). On “Sweet Remain,” he bleeds, and after a bouncing, gleefully insistent instrumental stretch, returns to ask, “And I wonder/Who’s fooling who/And I wonder/Who’s fooling you.” If nothing else, we glean that the sundry dramas surrounding the band are present on the minds of Vista Chino, and it was arguably much the same on Queens of the Stone Age‘s …Like Clockwork (review here) when it was released earlier this year. So be it. Following, “As You Wish” sticks to a similar lyrical thematic — the opening lines “Rise from ash/The phoenix comes” — but resides in a less hurried instrumental sphere, the bass prominent amid buzzsaw guitar and Bjork‘s drumming, which is subtly creative and periodically the glue holding the jams of Peace together. On a general level, “As You Wish” is more indicative of the spirit of Peace overall, laid back, heavy, ultra-grooved and jammed-feeling but given to moments of propulsive riffing, topped with Garcia’s inimitable vocals. Most immediate, it makes a fitting lead-in for “Planets 1 & 2,” which not only is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Peace but also, for Bjork taking the fore vocally, one of the stretches in which Vista Chino most carves out its own personality, separate from the legacy of Kyuss.

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Buried Treasure: Sabbia and the Warm Sands

Posted in Buried Treasure on January 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

When Sabbia came out in 2006, I was interested. I remember seeing it was around, and knowing that Brant Bjork was somehow involved, and that the desert, the fuzz, etc., but I never picked it up. You know how it goes. Some things just get by you, and when it comes to music DVDs, they’re cute once or twice, then you never watch them again. They sit on the shelf and collect dust. Brant Bjork‘s music is so visually associated in my mind with a specific imagery, I guess I wasn’t in a hurry to have something come along and screw that up.

Fair enough. Sabbia came and went, and it wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally stumbled on a copy, on sale for a whopping three dollars, and felt inclined to pick it up. Actually, I felt excited to pick it up, since it’s harder to get nowadays than when it was first released. I paid three dollars cash money and when I finally put in the disc, I quickly saw that Sabbia – which was directed by Kate McCabe and features Bjork both performing and wandering around a convenience store to pick up some beers — was more than just a standard music DVD. It’s more like a love-letter to desert weirdness brought to life as the music and the visuals feed into each other’s ideas.

There’s no narrative to speak of, though a thread runs throughout of a hottie making her way across the sands in slow motion, but through a series of vignettes based around songs — sections titled “Future Freak,” “Cobra Jab,” “Cool Abdul,” “Joint Ritual,” and so on — McCabe takes the viewer through a range of experiences, usually drenched in sunlight, and it’s everything from skateboarding to snow on cacti to dark-room dancing, trees, open skies, music, people, buildings, sunglasses, freaks, drugs, stars at night. It’s not about Bjork specifically, though he’s in a lot of it, but it’s a project where the editing is almost as much of a character as anyone appearing. Some voiceover, but no real dialogue to speak of. And scenery. Scenery for what feels like forever.

Obviously that’s the idea. And with grainy footage, quirky flourishes and a landscape to work with that’s as unmistakable as the grooves it has birthed, Sabbia runs 80 minutes of tripped-out pastoralia. It wanders in parts — again, that’s the idea — but it’s easy to get lost in its admiration and idolization of the desert, especially if you’re somebody who appreciates that place and the various freaks who’ve emerged from it over the course of the last two decades with a brand of rock and roll that nobody outside has been able to capture in quite the same way. The collaboration between McCabe and Bjork is almost even-sided, but unquestionably one is made fuller by the work of the other.

Being on the other side of the country and given to a certain brand of escapism, I can very easily see paying many return visits to Sabbia, though I’ll say already I’ve gotten my three dollars’ worth out of it and then some. Of course, the whole movie is up on YouTube at this point, so I’ve included it below if you’d like to check it out, with fervent recommendation for tracking down a physical copy so you can get the liner notes from the director and the composer on how their working together came about and what their mission was with the project, etc. It’s about as fitting a representation of the desert as one could ask for:

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Poll Results: The 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records

Posted in The Debate Rages on September 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

A couple weeks ago, I asked the question above: “What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?” It was kind of just something I was throwing out there to see what came back. Nothing scientific, pretty vague on what “stoner rock” actually meant as a genre designation. Basically just trying to get a spur-of-the-moment response, like an inkblot test for riffs. First thing that comes to mind.

The response was awesome, so before anything else, thank you to everyone who contributed a list to the original post. I was taken aback by the number of replies that came in — a total 73 comments — and the resultant breadth of records named reads like a wishlist of the damned. Some people were pretty orthodox in their definition of the genre, and some more open in the bands they included, but working from everyone’s lists, I tallied up the votes, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all the choices personally (I added my own list as a comment to the initial post, so I won’t bother reprinting it), it was a blast to see what emerged on top. The people have spoken.

I tried to be as fair as I could in the tallying. There were some comments left that were individual songs and not albums, and those I didn’t count, but everything else went in, even if it was only mentioned once, and when someone said, for example, “Melvins – all,” I actually added a tally to everything by the Melvins that everyone else had said. Again, it’s not really a scientific thing polling demographic data, but it was a lot of fun.

Okay, here’s the list:

The Top 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records Poll Results:

1. Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (41 votes)
2. Sleep, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (27 votes)
3. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (19 votes)
4. Kyuss, Blues for the Red Sun (18 votes)
5. Monster Magnet, Spine of God (15 votes)
5. Sleep, Dopesmoker (15 votes)
7. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (14 votes)
7. Fu Manchu, In Search Of… (14 votes)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (12 votes)
10. Fu Manchu, The Action is Go (10 votes)

As you can see, some real classics in there, and Welcome to Sky Valley was far and away the winner, picked by 41 out of the 73 people (myself included), with Sleep and Black Sabbath behind. There were two ties at numbers five and seven, but beyond that, it’s a pretty clear picture of where people are at with their favorites.

What about everything else? Well, it was all counted. I broke all the entries down by number of votes and listed them by artist with albums in chronological order.

You’ll find the complete list after the jump.

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

Posted in Features on July 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

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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Top 20 of 2010 #12: Brant Bjork, Gods and Goddesses

Posted in Features on December 13th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Brant Bjork‘s ninth solo album in just over that many years, Gods and Goddesses saw him refine the fuzzy desert tones and grooves that have typified his work since the beginning. With cleaner, clearer, more professional production, the guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and legendary drummer for Kyuss and Fu Manchu displayed a commercial and classic rock awareness the likes of which his fanbase hadn’t yet seen from him. His prior album, Somera Sól (released under the Brant Bjork and the Bros. moniker) approached some of that sound, but the production value made all the difference.

Perhaps most notably, Gods and Goddesses found Bjork bringing in longtime-friend/bassist Billy Cordell (formerly of Yawning Man), who was able to match exquisitely the grooves Bjork was putting down. At the end of the slow-rolling album closer “Somewhere Some Woman,” Cordell helped bring an entirely new and decidedly darker dynamic out of the typical Brant Bjork desert-sun-affected rock. Between that, the twists of “Blowin’ up Shop” and opener “Dirty Bird” — which might be the most Brant Bjork-sounding Brant Bjork song ever — Gods and Goddesses was an easy highlight of 2010.

He said in our interview that he hoped Gods and Goddesses would help him bring some attention to his solo career, and it’s apparently worked out, as he announced just last week that he’s signed with Napalm Records for future Brant Bjork releases. It’s a smart move, given the response he’s been able to get at European festivals like Roadburn and Hellfest and that he’ll be touring next year as part of the semi-reunion act, Kyuss Lives. One just hopes it’s not too long before he issues a follow-up.

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Here’s Brant Bjork’s First Bio

Posted in Buried Treasure, Where to Start on September 27th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

A while back I purchased a promo of the Man’s Ruin release of High on Fire‘s first album, The Art of Self-Defense, and posted the bio included with that. It didn’t get much of a response, but when I received the promo of Brant Bjork‘s Jalamanta (which I’m certain is exactly the same as the final Man’s Ruin release sonically, though the wah-guitar on “Automatic Fantastic” sounded higher in the mix when I listened this morning), I was interested to read how the album was pitched to the press at the time.

Of course, we think of desert rock now as a given, but in 1999, the idea was still pretty new, at least to those outside the geographic locale. So in coming up with a description for Bjork‘s unique blend of soul, funk, punk and classic rock, the record gets called “12 tracks of ghetto vibe wonder,” which is just awesome. Plus, it’s got different cover art than either the final Man’s Ruin release or the subsequent Duna Records reissue. That’s gotta be worth $15 in itself.

So here’s the bio for your perusal. Click the image to view full-size:

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Where to Start: The Desert Scene

Posted in Where to Start on July 23rd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

What a question. Understand, I’m not talking about a grouping based on sound. I mean bands from the desert in California. It’s a limited bunch of musicians, centered around a few interconnected acts that have had a tremendous impact on stoner rock the world over. Although I think they’ve made some of the most important contributions to the genre, I’m including no outside bands here. It’s all about location.

Five bands  you need to know, and which album to get. Here goes:

1. Yawning Man: Most often credited as originators of the desert scene, an instrumental trio with Gary Arce, Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) and Alfredo Hernandez (also Kyuss). Their new album, Nomadic Pursuits (review here), is fantastic and a great display of the influence they’ve had on those who’ve followed them, but recommendations for 2005′s Rock Formations are valid.

2. Kyuss: They’re the hallmark act of stoner rock, with import not just limited to the bands former members have launched (Queens of the Stone Age, Unida, Slo Burn, Brant Bjork, Mondo Generator, etc.). Welcome to Sky Valley is an all-time classic. As necessary as oxygen.

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First Roadburn 2010 Audio Streams Now Online

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 25th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

For those who weren’t able to make it either for fiscal or volcanic reasons, the first audio streams from this year’s Roadburn are online now. If you’re still reading and haven’t yet clicked that link, here it is again. Go on, then.

The first batch features YOB, Brant Bjork, Horisont, Trinacria, Nachtmystium, Firebird, Earthless and more to choose from, so you know, life is pretty awesome. I’ve got the YOB one on now and it rules as you’d expect.

Here’s what fest-organizer Walter had to say about it and a poster of why I want to make it through the next year:

Finally, the volcanic dust has (almost) settled! For everyone no longer fighting short term memory loss and extreme fatigue caused by sleep deprivation and sensory overload, get ready to relive the highlights of Roadburn Festival 2010.

For everyone who could not make it due to the mighty Eyjafjallajokull eruption, now is your time to enjoy the festival without any hassles. And for everyone who could not magically clone ourselves to simultaneously catch all of the action in the Bat Cave, Green Room, Midi Theatre and Main Hall and felt kind of bummed about it, cheer up!

We are pleased to announce that VPRO 3voor12, which is the leading cultural media network in the Netherlands, has posted additional on-demand audio streams for your Roadburn 2010 listening pleasure.

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Interview with Brant Bjork: The King of Desert Groove

Posted in Features on April 2nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Desert rock luminary Brant Bjork has been embroiled in a prolific solo career for over a decade now, and with his latest album, Gods and Goddesses (released through his own Low Desert Punk imprint; the reincarnated version of what was once Duna Records), the former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer and successful multi-instrumentalist has changed his approach somewhat, focusing on higher production value and a tighter range of execution. In short, he’s gone back to his straightforward rock roots and blended the aesthetics of early ’70s hard rock (Deep Purple, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, etc.) vinyl releases with his trademark desert approach, incorporating elements of surf, funk, soul and jazz for good measure.

My review of the album is here, so I won’t go on about it, but as someone who’s followed Brant Bjork‘s progression over the course of his solo works, it’s hard not to be excited about the material and dynamics Gods and Goddesses presents. Joining Bjork on the album are bassist and longtime friend Billy Cordell (Yawning Man), guitarist Brandon Henderson and drummer Giampaolo Farnedi, and the unit sound both crisp and organic thanks to the production of Ethan Allen (The 88s, Luscious Jackson), with whom Bjork has, as he explains in the interview, been waiting to work with for years.

He and the band are currently embarked on a European tour that includes a stop at the Roadburn festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands, but before he left, Brant Bjork took some time to discuss over the phone the change in his approach to making records that preceded Gods and Goddesses, founding Low Desert Punk, his time spent living in Spain and much more. Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Brant Bjork: In Communion with the Immortals

Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

On the opening track of his ninth solo album, Gods and Goddesses, Brant Bjork sings, “What you’re hearing is exactly what was heard, yeah.” The former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer and songwriting force behind the short-lived Ché project isn’t wrong either; like each of his records since 1999’s debut, Jalamanta, Gods and Goddesses has a righteously natural feel. As ever, the songs sound like solo material, as in, they feel written by one person — which I never saw as a problem — but Brant (and here I’ll veer from my usual last-name-only method to save anyone being confused as to of whom we’re speaking) has adopted a methodology for coping with that. He’s put a new band together.

For those who’ve followed Brant Bjork’s career as an independent solo artist (and if you haven’t, you’ve missed some very exciting records; Jalamanta, Keep Your Cool, Local Angel, Tres Dias and its companion piece Somera Sol among them), the immediate difference you’re going to notice with Gods and Goddesses is the upswing in production value. Like most of his records, he’s releasing this one himself — through the still relatively new incarnation of Duna Records called Low Desert Punk — but he’s chosen to work with producer Ethan Allen (The 88, Luscious Jackson), and in so doing has added an air not necessarily of professionalism to his sound since if you’re not professional-sounding nine albums in, you shouldn’t be doing this, but definitely one of fulfillment. Tracks like the dune-ready “The Future Rock (We Got It),” the elaborately constructed “Radio Mecca” — on which Brant seems to be doing a vocal call and response with himself — and the later, more ethereal “Porto” sound complete and fully realized.

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And Now a Public Service Announcement

Posted in Buried Treasure on January 6th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Here’s a quick tip for those of you on either side of the buying and selling of goods via the webunets: USE A FUCKING PADDED ENVELOPE.

Doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right? And perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “What the hell does it matter? I sandwiched the disc between two pieces of cardboard and sent it in a regular envelope, it should be fine.” NO. It makes a difference, and two pieces of cardboard is not the same as bubblewrap. This should be kindergarten level shit, but apparently it needs to be said.

And I say “apparently” because twice in the last month have I received packages of CDs — one off eBay and another from the message board (not the All that is Heavy webstore, with which I’ve had no such issues) — where, after dashing to the mailbox and rejoicing at seeing the wanted package, I’ve opened it up and found the jewel cases smashed all to hell.

No problem, right? I’ve got extra jewel cases, and a switch is easy enough. But hey, maybe after paying $35+ for a copy of Spirit Caravan‘s rare-as-fuck Jug Fulla Sun, I’d like to get it without the back liner ripped because broken shards of jewel case plastic punctured it? Same fucking thing happened with the Man’s Ruin issue of Brant Bjork‘s Jalamanta a couple weeks ago, so clearly, for the good of the internet buying community at large, I need to repeat myself: USE A FUCKING PADDED ENVELOPE.

This concludes this public service announcement. Remember kids, padded envelopes save lives, or at very least make you seem like much less of an asshole to the people buying out-of-print albums from you.

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2010′s Promise in Five Easy Albums

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 4th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Anyone out there have any records you’re really looking forward to hearing this year? Preview stuff is always tricky to put together because it’s either rampant speculation or shortsighted. The fact is no one knows how a year will play out as it’s just beginning. There are all these “Albums to Watch Out For” lists and it’s either stuff you’ll never see or everything is released by the middle of March.

But hey, it’s an unpredictable world. Maybe The Melvins will have a record this year, maybe not. And if they do, maybe it’ll suck. One can never tell what life is going to bring.

With the usual stipulations that this is in no way comprehensive or based on anything other than personal opinion (namely mine), here are five albums I’m looking forward to hearing in 2010, numbered for convenience, not necessarily preference:

01. High on Fire, Snakes for the Divine: Duh. It’s probably the biggest “stoner metal” release of the first half of the year, if not the whole thing, and if not one of the biggest metal releases overall. I don’t know how Greg Fidelman will handle the production — so help me Robot Jesus if I don’t get to hear every Des Kensell tom thud — but even if it’s not up to par with Death is this Communion, the new High on Fire is bound to kick at least some ass.

02. Sasquatch, III: These guys already have two fantastic albums on Small Stone under their collective belt and are more or less the Great American Hope for 21st Century stoner rock. No pressure, dudes. Nothing really riding on this except the future of your country’s output in the genre. Not like if it’s not the greatest thing ever the whole world is going to laugh at America‘s diminished riff prowess (you know Belgium‘s just been waiting). So yeah, just play it cool.

03. Solace, A.D.: Long time coming, but I have faith that the Jersey boys will get it done and out this year. I’m not sure why exactly I have that faith, but I have it nonetheless. I’ve heard some of this material live and it destroys. It’s high time Solace started getting at least a piece of the recognition they deserve, and getting A.D. out is essential to that process. This might be that whole “rampant speculation” thing though, because A.D. is at least three years in the works at this point.

04. Brant Bjork‘s new album: Doesn’t have a revealed title yet, but if I had a New Year’s resolution (I don’t), it would be to interview Brant Bjork. He’s also reportedly got a live record out sometime soon, and he’s touring Europe again this Spring, so there’s a lot going on there.

05. Humo del Cairo, Humo del Cairo: MeteorCity is doing an issue of the Argentinian trio’s self-titled debut, and if there’s one thing I like, it’s stoner trios from Argentina. Especially ones with grooves as massive as “Cauce,” which you can hear on the band’s MySpace. Could be a sleeper hit, or could just rule. Count me in either way. I could have sworn I’d written about them before, but apparently not. An oversight soon to be corrected, I’m sure.

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