Review & Full Album Premiere: Various Artists, Legends of the Desert Desertfest 12″

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

va legends of the desert 4 way split

For the last several years, German imprint H42 Records has partnered with Desertfest to create a special limited split release for in honor of the Spring festivals in London and Berlin. Past editions have included Karma to Burn and Sons of Alpha Centauri, Raging Speedhorn together with Monster Magnet, and Greenleaf locking heads with Steak — the tracks generally with some measure of exclusivity, be they previously unreleased, a remastered oldie (which I seem to recall was the case with Greenleaf), etc. In 2018, a year where the entire universe has unveiled its conspiracy against humanity to be completely overwhelming, H42 has also decided to up its game, though it does so in particularly serene fashion.

This year’s Desertfest split is titled Legends of the Desert, and in addition to jumping from 7″ vinyl to a full 12″, it also doubles the amount of acts included from two to four, bringing together the interrelated projects Fatso Jetson, Yawning Sons, WaterWays and Mario Lalli und Matthias Schneeberger to each present one cut seemingly representing one aspect or another of the Californian desert that the principle figures involved call home. Speaking of, while there are four groups included on Legends of the Desert, the platter is really telling the story of two key figures of California’s initial low desert rock scene in Mario Lalli and Gary Arce. Arce‘s trademark shimmering surf-derived guitar tone features on two of the four inclusions — Yawning Sons’ “Down in the Street,” and WaterWays‘ “Three Rivers” — while Lalli is aboard for three as a member of Fatso Jetson, WaterWays and of course his solo-project with Schneeberger, whose production work not only for Fatso Jetson but also the likes of earthlings?, Nick Oliveriand Gutter Twins, among many, many others, has made him a crucial presence behind the board in that scene.

As they should, Fatso Jetson lead off the proceedings with “Semi Lost,” which even if it weren’t the only track to include vocals would probably still be the catchiest song here. Aside from their “desert legends” status, which is basically irrefutable more than 20 years into their career, Fatso JetsonMario Lalli on guitar/vocals, Dino von Lalli on guitar, Larry Lalli on bass and Tony Tornay (now also of All Souls) on drums — have retained the experimentalist sensibility of their songwriting. As their last album, 2016’s Idle Hands (review here) reminded, their songwriting process is deeply varied, and as they open side A with “Semi Lost,” it’s a more laid back feel than some of their more forward punk-blasting groovers. Just so happens — total coincidence, I’m sure — that in addition to providing that landmark hook, it suits the vibe of the split really well.

Last I heard, Mario Lalli and Tony Tornay were both in WaterWays as well, featuring as the rhythm section alongside Gary Arce‘s inimitable guitar tone, derived from surf and goth rock but unmistakably of the desert itself. Though the two groups are very different, Arce serves as the uniting force between WaterWays closing out side A with the four-minute just-too-active-to-really-be-drift-but-kind-of-drifting-anyway “Three Rivers,” his guitar tone echoing out spacious as ever and evocative of the desert in a manner that groups from around the world have done their best to emulate and generally fallen flat in the effort. “Three Rivers” is resoundingly hypnotic, despite being just four minutes long, and though it’s twice the length and has a much fuller arrangement owing to the complete lineup of UK progressive instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri, Yawning Sons‘ “Down in the Street” might dip lower in low end tone, but ultimately winds up in a similarly broad sphere, the ambience stretching out comfortably and patiently for the song’s duration, no less trance-inducing leading off side B than “Three Rivers” was in capping side A, though I will readily admit to being a sucker for Yawning Sons as I still consider their lone full-length, 2009’s Ceremony to the Sunset (review here, vinyl review here), among the finest releases Californian desert rock has ever produced. Anything new from them is welcome as far as I’m concerned.

Legends of the Desert ends with a particular note of intrigue in Mario Lalli und Matthias Schneeberger‘s “Spector,” which at 4:17 brings together the clear collaborative elements of the former’s guitar and the latter’s keys, but there are also drums and bass involved and I’m not sure who handled them. If it’s a studio project, it could’ve certainly been either party or someone like Tornay stopping through for the afternoon, but the real question is why “Spector” isn’t a Fatso Jetson song. Sure it’s instrumental, but Fatso Jetson have done plenty of instrumentals over the years, and Schneeberger, aside from producing, has been a regular guest contributor to their work. One can easily imagine, then, it was a conscious decision to adopt the Lalli/Schneeberger banner, and extrapolate from that the curiosity as to whether the two will collaborate directly on some future release apart from Lalli‘s work in Fatso Jetson, and what that might sound like. “Spector,” for what it’s worth, continues in the open-feeling spirit of Yawning Sons and WaterWays before it — a bit darker in tone — and whether or not it’s a harbinger of things to come, it makes a satisfying closing argument to Legends of the Desert, each side of which tells the tale of arid-climate-born fluidity and resonates with a creative force unlike anything from anywhere else. These Legends are still being told, still being shaped, but there’s no question that the impact they’ve had on the worldwide underground is massive, and if that’s what’s being celebrated here, you’ll get no argument from me.

I have the pleasure today of streaming the complete Legends of the Desert 12″, which officially releases May 4. You’ll find it below courtesy of H42 Records and Desertfest, and it is presented with my gratitude to both of them as well as to you for reading and listening.

Please enjoy:

DESERTFEST is just around the corner in May. 2018. For the past three years we contributed in collaboration with the DesertFest team the vinyl for the FEST. We decided to change the format into the 12″ vinyl format this year.

And what fits better to the DesertFest, as an album with bands with a very big relation to the ‘desert’? So we called the album LEGENDS OF THE DESERT (RELEASE MAY 4th 2018). For this fantastic vinyl we could won great bands and musicians, each of them with a previously unreleased song:

FATSO JETSON, YAWNING SONS, WATERWAYS and a solo project under the direction of MARIO LALLI & MATHIAS SCHNEEBERGER. As always ALEXANDER VON WIEDING was responsible for artwork and layout: a slightly variation of the original 7″ art.

Desertfest London website

H42 Records on Thee Facebooks

H42 Records on Bandcamp

H42 Records website

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Buried Treasure: Big Scenic Nowhere, Big Scenic Nowhere

Posted in Buried Treasure on January 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan


The history behind Big Scenic Nowhere is nearly as complex as the desert ecosystem that gave birth to the project in the first place, and before I get into it, I want to send a personal thanks to Nick Hannon, bassist of the UK’s Sons of Alpha Centauri, who was kind enough to send me their demo. Hannon, who of course also plays in the just-reviewed Yawning Sons alongside Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce, and has appeared on split releases between Arce‘s WaterWays, Sons of Alpha Centauri and Australia’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders (who also had a collaboration with Arce out), as well as Yawning Sons and WaterWays, in different big-scenic-nowhere-cd-sleevepermutations of players working together and collaborating. Arce, whose guitar tone is one of the founding tenets of desert rock, is generally at the center, and that proves to be the case in Big Scenic Nowhere as well.

It seems unfair to call Big Scenic Nowhere a short-lived project considering that it involves Arce and bassist Mario Lalli, who’ve played together for over 25 years in Yawning Man, as well as drummer Tony Tornay, who doubles in Lalli‘s “other band,” Fatso Jetson, and could be heard last year propelling the formidable Napalm Records debut from Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk BandBlack Power Flower (review here). But while these three know and have worked together for a long time one way or another, as Big Scenic Nowhere, their tenure was brief. The band was born out WaterWays, which featured vocalist Abby Travis in addition to ArceLalli and Tornay, when the recordings for their debut album got tied up in legal issues. Big Scenic Nowhere went back into the studio, re-recorded the tracks instrumentally, and set about releasing tbig scenic nowhere liner 1hem on their own, posting them on YouTube, etc.

That was circa 2008/2009. In 2010, most of the WaterWays songs would surface on the aforementioned splits with Yawning Sons and with Sons of Alpha Centauri and Hotel Wrecking City Traders, so that material is out there. It exists. In the wake of that, Big Scenic Nowhere were just about done. Yawning Man, with Arce and Lalli, put out Nomadic Pursuits (review here) and Fatso Jetson, with Lalli (on guitar/vocals) and Tornay, put out Archaic Volumes (review here). That’s half a decade ago now, and the Big Scenic Nowhere CD was included as a bonus for anyone who purchased the splits. So far as I know, that and at shows were the only ways it ever officially came out, despite the fact that the original recordings of most of these songs, with Travis, have been released on those two split offerings.

Like I said, it’s a complex history.

But the end result is that Big Scenic Nowhere have wound up as this kind of hidden secret of Californian desert rock.big scenic nowhere liner 2 The CD — you might note the shadow of the famous “Welcome to Sky Valley” sign on the dry cracked earth on the disc itself– contains all the dynamic turns one might expect from a Lalli/Tornay rhythm section and the signature bliss of Arce‘s guitar, and in addition to the six prior-recorded songs that would be later released by WaterWays, there are also the original “Bows and Arrows,” a cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and a live set from the Date Shed in Indio, CA, broken down into two separate jams and presented complete with a spoken introduction. All told, it’s a 57-minute collection that, particularly for fans of Yawning Man is probably worth being easier to track down than it is. Big Scenic Nowhere wound up in a strange position once the WaterWays stuff came out, but even instrumental, songs like “Waterways,” “Queen of the Passout Riders” and “Three Rivers” retain a memorable feel. Liner notes from Arce that explain the whole situation are included, so you can work your way through to how the tracks got to be what they are. Even out of context, however, they leave an impression, whether you heard the WaterWays splits or not.

Big Scenic Nowhere, “Memorial Patterns”

Big Scenic Nowhere on Thee Facebooks

Gary Arce’s Soundcloud page

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Yawning Man, Nomadic Pursuits

Posted in Features on August 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

This one is, I admit, a personal pick. The past six weeks of Album of the Summer of the Week choices have all had various appeals, but Yawning Man‘s 2010 outing, Nomadic Pursuits — even for just being two years old — has as much personal association as any album I own.

I only wrote about it a little bit at the time, but from July-August, 2010, The Patient Mrs. and I rented a cabin in Belmont, Vermont, for the whole month. I was only vaguely employed at the time, and she had the summer off from teaching, so we put what little money we had into it and made it work. Nomadic Pursuits was one of the albums I brought with me to review (and I did; review here) while we were up there.

The thing about it is, that month in Vermont was almost everything I’ve ever wanted my life to be. I woke up every day at 10AM, rolled over in bed, picked up my laptop, and wrote. I wrote stories, I wrote essays, reviews, whatever. All of it. I just wrote. I wrote, and wrote and wrote, and writing is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Well, that and travel, but even the traveling is part of the writing.

But that’s what life was in Vermont. I wrote, and The Patient Mrs. did her work, and we read, and we hung out with the little dog Dio, and when we were done for the day, we’d eat some local cheddar at the small kitchen table and watch the sunset over the lake down the way or knock off down the side of the mountain and hit up the Irish pub to watch the baseball game. By the end of the month, they knew our names, we’d been there so often. It was damn near perfect, living that pipedream and forgetting by the end of it how much it actually cost to make that happen, how unfeasible an existence that was. It was so hot up there, this and Quest for Fire‘s Lights from Paradise were all I had to keep cool.

Every time I hear Nomadic Pursuits — which was crafted by Yawning Man to represent an almost-opposite landscape of the Californian desert, not the forests of New England — I go back there, riding up those empty roads in the middle of the night after some show I drove down to New York to see, or sitting on the patio at night with the bug zapper going. Honestly, it’s a record I can barely listen to at this point, in light of all the stupid decisions I’ve made since then — things like going back to work full-time, and, well, staying back at work full-time, cutting myself off from writing almost completely in ways that aren’t either this or corporately-mandated shilling — but putting it on today to write up this post, it’s a sweet bit of escapism I’m enjoying. We were back by this point in August, anyway.

I’m still holding out hope that Gary Arce‘s new Yawning Man lineup will have an album out before the end of this year, but in the meantime, here’s the opener that more or less defines the course of this whole record:

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Avant Guardian Experimental Pizza by the Slice, by Mario Lalli

Posted in Features on March 28th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

In his second and most awesomely titled column for the site, Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson illuminates his feelings on the avant garde and discusses a recent performance at his Los Angeles-area restaurant, Cafe 322. Please enjoy:

Avant Guardian Experimental Pizza by the Slice
by Mario Lalli

I have an interesting perspective on people’s takes and response to different kinds of music.

I run a restaurant/club in Sierra Madre, California – a small town about 20 minutes east of Los Angeles. It’s a small venue, seats about 100. We have a neighborhood bar where locals hang and wind down after work.

My family has been in this business for 65 years. My folks were both opera singers and made a nice life for themselves entertaining the customers at their restaurants for decades. When I opened our place here in L.A. after growing up in the SoCal desert (a cultural void), I was excited to dive into booking an eclectic mix of live music ranging from rock shows with bands like Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man, Saccharine Trust, Mike Watt, Spindrift, Totimoshi, Brant Bjork & the Bros – you get the idea – to big band jazz & bebop, blues, bluegrass, roots rock… you name it.

On Sundays it’s opera. My father sings arias and Neapolitan songs with a group of singers that come out every week. I work behind the bar most of the time, running back and forth to the stage to check the sound and dial in the mix. At the bar you get a direct response to whatever is happening on the stage. For instance, the two bikers that roll in for a shot and a beer on a Sunday evening. As these two dudes dismount their Harleys and shake off the road dust, they have no idea that they are about to walk into Opera Night with a three-octave soprano on stage singing the “Doll Song” from The Tales of Hoffman. I wish I had that reaction on video. Needless to say, there are very few places where these two worlds collide and our cafe is one of them.

Being the proprietor/booker, I am pretty sensitive to the various opinions that come at me about the music we feature. I do have to think about catering somewhat to the mainstream, even though it’s very hard to do sometimes. I sometimes forget that my tastes and what I dig might be downright offensive to the average person that tunes in pop radio on the way home from work. A debate that has recently been sparking through the conversation at the bar over the last few days was ignited by a performance I booked featuring members of L.A.’s free music society.

This group of experimental artists and musicians perform mostly improvised pieces, rejecting the traditional components of popular song form. “It’s sound not song. What it does in your head is up to you,” was one comment that I found interesting. The makeup of the band was traditional enough – vocal, sax, piano, bass, drums. The music, however…

Imagine tides of puzzle pieces washing up on your brain just to be incinerated by blasts of gong and saxophone blurts. Improvising vocally was Bonnie Barnett. She is probably the most interesting element of the band, making “wasa wasa” sounds and scatting excorcistic unintelligible bleeps and bloops into the microphone in answer to the chaotic swelling and fractured soundscapes. Keep in mind this is all happening in a pizzeria during dinnertime.

The crowd that night was a very spattered mix of local rockers, aging beatniks, soccer moms and date-nite couples. The reaction was to both extremes, the avant garde that soaked up every flutter and clang with delight, to the foursome of golf buddies that happened to come by for a cold one after the 18th hole and found themselves trapped in a jazz torture chamber.

It was from this end of the spectrum the debate ensued: “What the fuck are they doing??!! That’s not music!” or, “This is bullshit, are they serious??” Some customers were actually outraged that I would subject them to this while they were trying to eat and visit with their friends and demanded an explanation for my choice of entertainment. I might as well have had Venom on stage, or, even better, Celtic Frost or Earth laying down slabs of avant lava to add ambiance to their dining experience.

The debate about the legitimacy of this form of expression/entertainment has been brought up every day since the show two weeks ago. I guess while it’s not the most practical business decision I’ve made, it certainly got people thinking and me asking myself, “Where do I draw the line between expression and entertainment?” I guess after thinking about it probably more than I should have, my answer is to that question is the line does not exist.

To see the menu and upcoming performances at Cafe 322, check out the restaurant’s website.


Mario Lalli Wants to Know When You Got Heavy

Posted in Features on February 22nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

…Right after I got married — heyo!

In his first column for The Obelisk, guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson hits on the topic of “heavy” and what it is about it that allows for near-universal application. He tells his story, and I hope you’ll share yours in the comments below.

When did you get heavy?
by Mario Lalli

Have you ever thought about when and where and how… and why heavy rock and roll speaks to you? How did you come to discover the music and what about it moves you? What was the first step you took as a kid that led you to be reading this blog dedicated to hard rock and the culture that embraces it? The music, art, fashion, style, all of it.

It’s interesting to me to think about how certain sounds make me feel. How a “style” of music can become polarized because of the feeling that I get when I hear it is relevant to my experience. I’ll try to explain this thought… My experiences with hearing music as a child are probably very similar to yours.

The first meaningful songs we heard as babes are lullabies, nursery rhymes, etc. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”-kind of stuff. A lot of us also had music as part of our family culture… folkloric songs passed from generation to generation, music you hear in church. This kind of music has a different place in my head than a lot of the stuff I later discovered, listened to and became obsessed with (for many different reasons). There is an infinite spectrum of sounds and songs that move me in almost indescribable ways and then there is this word “heavy.”

What makes a sound, song or something “heavy?” Even more perplexing is why do I think that sounds “heavy?” When did my experiences during my pre-pubescent overload of TV, movies, real-life culture, pop culture and every other entertaining distraction the ‘60s and ‘70s tell my brain what sounds heavy? There’s got to be a reason that the first time I heard “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (Iron Butterfly) at three or four years old I already knew what “trippy” meant and that frontal-lobe-searing fuzz guitar means your frying balls. I knew that at four years old. The instant I heard that fucking rad song. Why??!!

The conditioning that goes into really understanding “heavy” is not limited to those of us that feasted on the magical ceramic wizards of rock — Blue Cheer, CreamZeppelin, Sabbath, Hendrix — but also someone who wouldn’t know any of these artists if he heard them: My father. My father is 88 years old and has been an operatic tenor since he was 18. He is very open minded while highly educated musically. The thing is he also uses the term “heavy” to describe a musical passage or a feeling in a movement. The other day we were discussing classical composers and their style and approach. He used the word heavy to explain the relentless jarring harmonies and orchestration of Richard Wagner.

And the “heavy” is in Wagner‘s Ring Cycle — a series of operas based on Norse Sagas, Vikings, Gods, death, Germanic mythology. This stuff gets pretty fucking heavy. The kind of heavy that makes Black Sabbath sound like bluegrass. Anyway the super cool thing: It’s that it’s a relative term that while varying in complexity and depth still describes and conveys this basic dramatic feeling. Now where the bell-bottoms, mag wheels and muttonchops fit in I’m not real sure… but I love it all!