Brant Bjork, Jacoozzi: Guerrilla Wonderland

Posted in Reviews on April 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork jacoozzi

Roll tape. Jam. Repeat. It’s not a new methodology by any means, but it still works, and one imagines the process becomes more complicated when there’s only one person involved. Fortunately for anyone who might find themselves immersed in the Heavy Psych Sounds-issued Jacoozzi, that one person is Brant Bjork, who plays all instruments throughout the release recorded in 2010. It was a productive era for Bjork in the studio and on the road, as the years immediately preceding had seen him touring with his then-band, Brant Bjork and the Bros., as well as putting out LPs at a steady clip like 2006’s serene, acoustic Tres Dias (reissue review here), 2007’s Somera Sól (discussed here) and 2008’s Punk Rock Guilt (though that was recorded in 2005) through his Low Desert Punk Records imprint, and the former Kyuss drummer was still a couple years off from putting his solo career aside to participate in the semi-reunion Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino circa 2011-2013. It would seem to have been during the making of what became 2010’s Gods and Goddesses (review here) that Bjork, apparently frustrated with how the material was coming together, scrapped everything and instead jammed out Jacoozzi with Tony Mason engineering for what has ended up as 10 tracks and 46 minutes of mostly-instrumentalist heavy chill mastery.

And like its cover art with an image of Bjork — ex-Kyuss as noted, also formerly of Fu Manchu and by 2010 already with no fewer than eight solo/bandleader full-lengths under his belt — staring directly at the camera, surrounded by an aura of muted shades like a ’70s wall hanging, Jacoozzi is about as dead-ahead and stripped-down as he’s ever gotten. As an entire work, it oozes vibe, and even the 44-second drum bed “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars” has a sleek groove, but it is definitely a collection of individual movements rather than something written as a single entity. It’s a different process of capturing the moment, then, not about bringing in a collection of pre-written songs and putting them down to establish an overarching feel, but getting there from another direction, piecing together jams one component at a time until finally a song like the mellow highlight “Black and White Wonderland” is built to where it needs to be.

That there are no vocals on the bulk of the material feels on one level like a missed opportunity at times — one imagines an improv rant over the tense wah guitar of “Oui” or a couple verses added to “Lost in Race” would’ve added to the effect rather than detracted from it — but it speaks to the circumstance in which the record was made and the fact that it likely wasn’t intended to be a record at all. It was Bjork expunging ideas in the studio, and getting stuff out of his head either as some kind of catharsis or to save and make into songs later before returning to work on Gods and Goddesses. Thus it is the nature of even the jazzy electric piano in “Mixed Nuts” or the cool-toned mood-setting in opener and longest track (immediate points) “Can’t Out Run the Sun” to be what they are and to feel like ideas waiting to be fleshed out. Jacoozzi isn’t a traditional Brant Bjork record, as much as that exists. At its core, it’s very much a drum album. The first element that enters on “Can’t Out Run the Sun” is a quiet tom progression, and “Mexico City Blues,” “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars” (which is only drums), “Oui,” and vocalized closer “Do You Love Your World?” all lead with drums one way or the other.

brant bjork

The only song that starts with guitar is the penultimate “Polarized,” which swells in with Hendrixian fuzz feedback before its slow ride cymbal backbeat takes hold and continues to wind its way forward in that fashion for all of its four minutes, with keys and bass and drums behind it. Other cuts like righteously on-the-beat “Guerrilla Funk” (premiered here) and the sleek “Mixed Nuts” and “Lost in Race” bring the drums and guitar, etc., in at the same time, but either way, it’s still drums at the foundation of the material, and that’s somewhat inevitable given how it was recorded, essentially constructed on top of improvised drum parts. Given an infinity of time, money and interest, might Bjork have turned all of these jams into full-fledged verse/chorus songs? I don’t know. Does it matter? Jacoozzi works as well as it does precisely because it’s not that, and it gives a different and heretofore largely unseen look at the process by which Bjork creates. It’s a single creative burst from nine years ago. One should not go into it expecting the same kind of fleshed-out songcraft as Bjork featured on last year’s Mankind Woman (review here), but if that bit of necessary context makes Jacoozzi a fan-piece, then the album is only an argument in favor of fandom.

Brant Bjork is no stranger to carrying a record on his own. The majority of his landmark 1999 solo debut Jalamanta (discussed here) was him alone, and certainly other outings along the way have been as well. Of those, it seems to make the most sense to liken Jacoozzi to Tres Dias. Not necessarily in terms of sound, but idea. Tres Dias was a mostly-unplugged collection of songs, some of which were older, some were newer, but all were given a new interpretation in a setting that was as intimate as possible. It was a rawer glimpse of Bjork‘s songwriting process than he’d given before. Jacoozzi functions to do much the same thing, but with a different target. “Do You Love Your World?” might be considered “finished,” but if Tres Dias was showcasing the songs, Jacoozzi is showcasing the jams that birthed them. And while Bjork has done plenty of jamming on recent albums, there’s never been a work so purely based around the idea, and that makes Jacoozzi all the more special of a moment to have been caught on tape, and after being shelved for nine years, its arrival is as welcome as it was awaited. It may be an aside, or a kind of footnote in Bjork‘s ongoing creative progression, but damn is it listenable.

Brant Bjork, Jacoozzi (2019)

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Brant Bjork Announces June & July European Tour Dates; Playing Freak Valley & More

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Earlier this week, Brant Bjork posted a clip of 2018 European tour highlights that, if you didn’t already want to see Brant Bjork — ah screw it, what am I thinking, of course you did. But the point is it looks like the shows were a blast. All the better timing, then that Bjork and company have a new round of Euro dates on deck, including numerous festival stops beginning with Freak Valley in Germany and wrapping up with Resurrection Fest in Spain on July 4. They’ll be in Belgium, the UK, Greece, Switzerland and Austria as well, so not exactly a minor bit of running around for a 14-show run, but if the video is anything to go by, it’ll be plenty groovy, and maybe even in slow motion!

Brant Bjork is of course about to release the awaited Jacoozzi collection of instrumentals on April 12 — you can hear “Guerrilla Funk” below — through Heavy Psych Sounds after making his debut on the label with Mankind Woman (review here) last year. He’ll once again have Sean Wheeler on the road as he did last time around and on the record.

Sound of Liberation has the dates thusly:

brant bjork tour

We’re glad to tell you that Brant Bjork will be back in Europe in June/July, with special guest Sean Wheeler, as follows:

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, 2018 EU Tour Highlights

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Brant Bjork Premieres “Guerrilla Funk” from Jacoozzi LP; Preorders Available Today

Posted in audiObelisk on January 31st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork (Photo Aija Svensson)

Brant Bjork beaming in a nine-year-old seven-minute instrumental jam? Well, around here that’s what we call a good day. The Dude of Dudes will issue Jacoozzi on April 5 through Heavy Psych Sounds, and while his work over the course of this decade — let’s say, across the post-Vista Chino solo-ish records: 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) and 2018’s Mankind Woman (review here) — has seen him increasingly become an ambassador to earth from the California desert and an arbiter of unmatched cool, nine years ago, as he headed toward the release of Gods and Goddesses (review here) coming off the release of the earlier-recorded Punk Rock Guilt in 2008 and 2007’s Somera Sól (discussed here) before that, it seems in hindsight there were a couple different competing impulses happening in his sound. Of course, his signature approach is mellow heavy, smooth, funky, and melodic, at once punk and soul and based around that inimitable desert groove that’s audible as well in the track “Guerrilla Funk” below, but at the time, Bjork was coming off working as bandleader for Brant Bjork and the Bros. and as his style got clearer and fuller in production across the 2007 and eventual 2010 outings, it seems it wasn’t always easy getting there.

The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — has it that Bjork got tired one day of ramming his head into the studio wall, rolled tape and brant bjork jacoozzijust jammed his way to what became Jacoozzi. Actual history is always a little more complex than that, but what a great image that is. Classic. Guy’s making a record, not feeling it, and just let’s loose and produces something raw and honest, and as you can hear in “Guerrilla Funk,” it could hardly be more his own if he was actually singing on it. I don’t know how well “Guerrilla Funk” ultimately represents Jacoozzi, since it’s all I’ve heard from the long-rumored, long-awaited offering, but it represents the context of its making beautifully, and seriously, if all 10 tracks included are seven-minute instrumental jams and it turns out to be well over an hour of Brant Bjork just grooving out, it’ll probably be my most-listened-to album this year. Again, I don’t know that that’s what it is, I’m just exploring the possibility.

Either way, you can hear in “Guerrilla Funk” the roots of how Jacoozzi was put together. It’s got a strong backbeat as the foundation and then is built up from there as Bjork jams out guitar, bass and percussion on top of that. Simple enough idea, but Bjork‘s ability to play as a one-man band is highlighted by the completeness of sound here. In the second half of the song, as he moves to a wash on the ride cymbal and the percussion gets more complex, he follows the change on guitar and bass and everything seems to surge forward for a bit before it recedes back into the core bounce of the track. It’s hypnotic to some degree, but most of all it’s funked out, and it gives a better sense of Bjork‘s root songwriting process than just about anything since 2006’s mostly-acoustic Tres Dias (reissue review here), showcasing a genuine exploration of ideas as they happen and the satisfying, engaging results that can yield. It’s worth noting again that, after putting Jacoozzi to tape and resting it on the shelf to be mentioned casually in interviews for years afterward, Brant Bjork went on over the course of this decade to make himself desert rock’s most indispensable purveyor. So, you know, clearly getting it out of his system before moving on was the right call.

Maybe it’s fan-piece, but whatever, I’m a fan, so I’ll take it. I’ll hope to have more once the rest of Jacoozzi shows up hopefully sometime before April, but in the meantime, get your finest boogie footwear on and have at it with “Guerrilla Funk” on the player below, followed by more info off the PR wire.

Enjoy:

Joshua Tree, California, 2010: Brant Bjork has just started to record another solo record. About 4 days into the sessions, the desert rock king decided to abandon the 8 songs he was working on, and told his long time friend and engineer, Tony Mason, to start rolling tape and Brant proceeded to play drums in his natural improv style. After multiple drum track performances were recorded, Brant started layering guitars, bass and percussion in the same improvisational spirit. The former Fu-Manchu and Kyuss-legend essentially decided to “jam” by himself and for the rest of his scheduled sessions.

When the recording session had come to an end, Brant put the 8 unfinished tracks on the shelf as well as his “solo jam session” tracks. “I was much more content with the “jam” tracks as it was a creative release that was needed at that time.“ he says. “I decided to call the collective tracks, Jacoozzi. At the time, it reminded me of the feeling of my first solo recording sessions for my first solo release, Jalamanta….only more “free”.“

BRANT BJORK New album “Jacoozzi”
Out April 5th on Heavy Psych Sounds Records
– Vinyl and CD preorder available: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm#HPS097

Brant Bjork – Keep Your Cool reissue preorder: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm#HPS098

The ‘Jacoozzi’ tracklist reads as follows:
1. Can’t Out Run The Sun
2. Guerrilla Funk
3. Mexico City Blues
4. Five Hundred Thousand Dollars
5. Black & White Wonderland
6. Oui
7. Mixed Nuts
8. Lost In Race
9. Polarized
10. Do You Love Your World?

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Brant Bjork to Reissue Keep Your Cool April 12

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 24th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork

True, we’re just days removed from the announcement that Brant Bjork will issue his long-awaited Jacoozzi album — recorded in 2010 — on April 5, but if you think about it, that there would be a reissue so close to a new offering is consistent with how Heavy Psych Sounds last year handled the arrival of the new studio album Mankind Woman (review here) and the reissues of Local Angel and Tres Dias (both reviewed here) that ran concurrent. Everything seems to be going according to plan. At least somebody’s plan. Hey though, really? If you think I mind writing about two forthcoming Brant Bjork releases in the same week, you are sorely mistaken. And a new edition of Keep Your Cool? To me, that just sounds like a reason to pick up a new edition of Keep Your Cool. Because it exists.

Revamped cover art and PR wire details follow:

brant bjork keep your cool

*** BRANT BJORK – KEEP YOUR COOL (remastered) ***

Heavy Psych Sounds Records & Booking is really stoked to unveil details and artwork of HPS 098

With ‘Tres Dias’ and ‘Local Angel’, which came out in the Fall of 2018, alongside BRANT BJORK’s latest solo album ‘Mankind Woman’, HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS has just announced to release BRANT BJORK’s hotly anticipated ‘Jacoozzi’ in early April 2019. An album that has already been recorded in an intense jam back in 2010, but never seen the light of day before.

And since we can never get enough of a good BRANT BJORK news, today HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS has proudly announced to continue with the desert rock king’s back catalogue and will reissue a remastered version of BRANT BJORK’s pathbreaking masterpiece ‘KEEP YOUR COOL’ !!!

‘Keep Your Cool’ is the third solo album by the Kyuss- and Fu Manchu-legend, originally released back in 2003 with Duna Records. Full of the soul and funky laid-back grooves BRANT BJORK is known and loved for, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and sweet guitar licks oozing from the great 70’s era vibes, ‘Keep Your Cool’ is still considered as one of BRANT BJORK’s accessible and catchiest records to date. Tracks such as ‘Hey, Monkey Boy’, ‘Johnny Called’ or ‘Gonna Make The Scene’ became classics in the stoner rock scene, taken from an album that belongs to every well-sorted BRANT BJORK record collection.

RELEASE DATE:
April 12th
PRESALE STARTS:
January 31st

AVAILABLE IN:
40 TEST PRESS
250 ULTRA LTD CLEAR BLUE VINYL
600 LTD WHITE SOLID MARBLED BLUE DARK BLUE- CLEAR SILVER VINYL
BLACK VINYL
DIGIPAK
DIGITAL

TRACKLIST
1. Hey, Monkey Boy
2. Johnny Called
3. Rock-N-Rol’e
4. I Miss My Chick
5. Keep Your Cool
6. Gonna Make the Scene
7. Searchin
8. My Soul

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Brant Bjork, Keep Your Cool (2003)

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Brant Bjork to Release Jacoozzi April 5; Preorders Jan. 31

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

Word has kicked around for a while of Brant Bjork‘s jam-ified solo release Jacoozzi — releases rumored at various times and in various spellings of a funky, soulful outing Bjork recorded all on his own in 2010. He spoke about it here in 2016, for example. Well, the alliance with Heavy Psych Sounds that produced the excellent Mankind Woman (review here) last year as well as a series of reissues digital and physical will continue with the awaited arrival of Jacoozzi on April 5. Sign me up. Simple as that. The picture the PR wire paints below of Bjork scrapping whatever he was working on at the time and building up tracks off the cuff by jamming out drums and then adding parts on top? Pretty much ideal. Plus, it’s got a Brant Bjork song called “Guerilla Funk.” There’s no way on earth that’s anything less than righteous.

Speaking of righteousness, you can see the album art below, which I think speaks for itself in that regard. Other details and whatnot follow:

brant bjork jacoozzi

BRANT BJORK to release new solo album “Jacoozzi” on April 5th via Heavy Psych Sounds Records

After the huge success of his latest, thirteenth solo-record ‘Mankind Woman’, which landed on numerous Best-Of lists in 2018, HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS RECORDS is proud to release the upcoming new album by desert rock titan BRANT BJORK! ‘Jacoozzi’ has already been captured on tape at a jam session back in 2010, but the tracks never made it on any of Brant Bjork’s solo albums to date. This Spring, April 5th 2019, will finally see ‘Jacoozzi’ to be released with Heavy Psych Sounds!

Joshua Tree, California, 2010: Brant Bjork has just started to record another solo record. About 4 days into the sessions, the desert rock king decided to abandon the 8 songs he was working on, and told his long time friend and engineer, Tony Mason, to start rolling tape and Brant proceeded to play drums in his natural improv style. After multiple drum track performances were recorded, Brant started layering guitars, bass and percussion in the same improvisational spirit. The former Fu-Manchu and Kyuss-legend essentially decided to “jam” by himself and for the rest of his scheduled sessions.

When the recording session had come to an end, Brant put the 8 unfinished tracks on the shelf as well as his “solo jam session” tracks. “I was much more content with the “jam” tracks as it was a creative release that was needed at that time.“ he says. “I decided to call the collective tracks, Jacoozzi. At the time, it reminded me of the feeling of my first solo recording sessions for my first solo release, Jalamanta….only more “free”.“

At that time in 2010, Brant had no formal plans to release any of the music from those sessions….’Jacoozzi’ included. Almost a decade later, Heavy Psych Sounds Records is stoked to finally release this special trip of a Brant Bjork jam!

“After 8 years in the waiting, it’s nice to finally have this recording I call Jacoozzi released.“ Brant Bjork comments. “I feel that the fans of my work will enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed performing and recording it.”

BRANT BJORK New album “Jacoozzi”
Out April 5th on Heavy Psych Sounds Records
– Vinyl and CD preorder available on January 31st –

The ‘Jacoozzi’ tracklist reads as follows:
1. Can’t Out Run The Sun
2. Guerrilla Funk
3. Mexico City Blues
4. Five Hundred Thousand Dollars
5. Black & White Wonderland
6. Oui
7. Mixed Nuts
8. Lost In Race
9. Polarized
10. Do You Love Your World?

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Brant Bjork, “Chocolatize” official video

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Friday Full-Length: Yawning Man, Rock Formations

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

 

Consider the timing. Yawning Man formed in 1986 with guitarist Gary Arce, guitarist Mario Lalli, bassist Larry Lalli and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, and for a long time were something of a historical footnote in the development of Californian desert rock. Along with Across the River and the Lallis’ other concurrent band, Fatso Jetson, they were crucial to the development of the style, but Yawning Man were never able to reap the same kind of acclaim as some of the others from their region/local scene, in no small part because they never had a record out. They never signed to SST like Fatso Jetson, or hooked up with Elektra Records like their more accessible acolytes in Kyuss.

In fact, until 19 years after they first got together, the closest thing Yawning Man to a proper document of their sprawling jams was a series of demos that would later be collected into The Birth of Sol (discussed here), which was released on vinyl through Cobraside Distribution in 2009 and on double-cassette earlier this year through Solid 7 Records in an edition of 100 copies. Yes, I bought one. Just now. While writing this post. It’s called multitasking.

So think about that: Yawning Man went 19 years before they put out a record. And when they did? Rock Formations was ahead of its time.

Issuing through Alone Records, the instrumentalists would catch the ears of an elite few in the burgeoning milieu of internet message boards, but what Rock Formations communicates even 13 years after its first release in 2005 is a sense of pastoral spaciousness. In Arce‘s signature guitar tone — which, not to take away from Mario Lalli‘s bass or Hernandez‘s drumming, which are of course essential to the proceedings — Yawning Man finds its center and emanates outward from there across 10 songs and 43 minutes that aren’t inactive, but seem to resonate a stillness all the same. It remains a gorgeous record.

But it’s not aggressive. And for a heavy underground who knew Yawning Man largely through the Kyuss cover of “Catamaran” — a song Yawning Man wrote but wouldn’t actually put on an album until 2018’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here) — it was an unexpected turn of aesthetic despite ultimately being true to the band’s style, which has never been outwardly angry. Even in the more forward low end of “Advanced Darkness” or the surge in the final minute of “Stoney Lonesome,” which is the longest track at 6:03, Rock Formations holds to a laid back vibe that might have punk roots, but certainly draws from other sources as well.

In 2010, during an interview to talk about that year’s follow-up to Rock Formations, the still-excellent Nomadic Pursuits (review here), I somewhat sheepishly came right out and asked Arce about the development of his guitar tone. yawning man rock formationsCouldn’t help myself. He was kind enough not to call me a dunce and gave a somewhat unexpected answer about his early inspirations:

I’m really into Bauhaus. Seriously. I grew up in the early ‘80s, listening to bands like Bauhaus and I’ve always loved the way that band has their thing, so I’ve always modeled my sound after them. I don’t know if you can hear it. The guitar player is Daniel Ash who later formed Love and Rockets. That guy’s an awesome guitar player, and he’s always had this tone that I’ve loved since I was a kid. When I finally got a guitar, I experimented around a lot with different effects and pedals, and I came near to what he does. I don’t want to sound just like him (laughs), but that’s one of my biggest influences, actually, is Bauhaus… If you listen to Yawning Man and you listen to Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult, Lords of the New Church, you’ll hear it.

Goth rock. A secondary tag for Yawning Man has always been surf because of the echo surrounding Arce‘s guitar and the general rhythmic insistence of songs like “Airport Boulevard” and “Perpetual Oyster,” both highlights of Rock Formations, but I’ve always kept that connection to Bauhaus in mind when it comes to Arce‘s work in sundry projects, and he’s right. You can hear it. It’s part of what makes Rock Formations harder to place within a style like heavy rock. And 2005 was a moment of generational shift as well. The stoner rock wave of the late ’90s and early ’00s had crested, and Yawning Man didn’t really fit with that either.

As the ensuing years and the boom of a mobilized social media landscape would expand the definition of “heavy” to encompass a range of atmospheres, Yawning Man would find their place eventually. But it took people that amount of time to catch up to them, and so in its initial release, Rock Formations was nothing if not under-appreciated. To hear it now, the Western jangle of “Split Tooth Thunder” and closer “Buffalo Chips” and the exploratory ambience of “She Scares Me” are quintessential Yawning ManNomadic Pursuits was more a right-album-right-time situation and though they’d continue having trouble getting on the road for a variety of reasons, by the time they got around to 2015’s Historical Graffiti (review here), which was recorded in South America, they were more apt to get out and tour.

Europe, as it will, has been a focal point, and to coincide with The Revolt Against Tired NoisesYawning Man headed abroad for a massive stint to promote it. One could argue the last half-decade has seen the band get some measure of the respect they’ve long deserved, but Rock Formations was still well in advance of that. Imagine if it had come out in 1995 instead. The mind boggles.

Maybe it was as early as it was late, but somehow being out of its time, standing utterly apart, suits Rock Formations. Yawning Man have never been about setting themselves to an expectation of what heavy is, and while ‘heavy’ has caught up to them in the years since, it’s always been a question of them working on their own terms. More then a decade after the fact, with Yawning Man having taken their place among the most pivotal architects of desert rock, they still are.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

So here’s how it’s gonna go. This weekend is my sister’s birthday. We’re driving down to New Jersey to see her for the occasion. Great. I like New Jersey, I like my family. It all works out. At the same time, The Patient Mrs. has some thing in Boston this morning/afternoon. We have one car.

It goes that I’ll drive with her to Boston with The Pecan in tow, then he and I will go futz around town for a bit while she does her thing — I’m planning on picking up a proper USB microphone so I don’t sound like complete ass (at least in terms of sound quality) during Gimme Radio voice breaks — then go back and pick her up. The drive to Boston can be about 90 minutes in the morning. Any time of day, it is viscerally unpleasant.

After that, we’re supposed to go drive to Connecticut for the night to split up the ride between Massachusetts and New Jersey. We’re not packed. I have no idea what time it will be by then, but I know that the baby — who’s 1 now; Mr. Bigshot Pecan climbing the furniture — will have already been in the car for at least two hours. Then it’s two more from Boston to CT, at least, depending on how long it takes to get out of town, traffic on I-95 or the Masspike, etc.

We’ll end up back here tonight, then rolling down to NJ directly tomorrow morning first thing. There’s no escaping the brutality either way. Then Monday we’re going to hightail it back north at least to Connecticut because The Patient Mrs. has work back here in MA at some point whenever. That’s at least a three-‘u’ fuuuck.

One more thing that, were I 20-25 years old, wouldn’t be a problem. Now? I can’t make it through Rhode Island without falling asleep at the wheel.

This, basically to spend one day in New Jersey. I’m not even sure it’ll be a full 24 hours. One overnight. Woof.

Next Friday, when I’m bitching about how tired I’ve been all week, please someone remind me why. Also feel free to call me fat and tell me I’m a shitty parent. I’ll hear it either way.

Then buy a t-shirt. Thanks.

Here are the notes for next week, subject to change without prior notice:

Mon.: Little Jimi review/stream; maybe that new Greenleaf video.
Tue.: Godmaker/Somnuri split review; Yatra track premiere; Juniper Grave video premiere.
Wed.: Sundecay review/track premiere.
Thu.: Goliathan review/album stream.
Fri.: Arcadian Child review/track premiere.

Wherever possible and in situations where I’m cool enough to do so as deemed by labels, PR, management and the bands themselves — sundry gatekeepers — I’ve been trying to line up reviews and premieres. Gives people a little something more to dig into than my endless fucking blathering. It’s better when there’s a song there at the top of the post. Makes it more exciting for me too.

It’s not all premieres, but I’ve got reviews booked from now through the second week of December. Nothing like thinking ahead.

Pop pop pop. — That’s my brain in my skull.

Okay.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Tattoo it on my forearm. Thanks for reading.

Great and safe weekend. Forum and radio.

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Friday Full-Length: Brant Bjork and the Bros., Somera Sól

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Never mind what he’s brought to the genre in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, the early Desert Sessions or his brief time in Fatso Jetson, Brant Bjork‘s greatest contributions have been in his solo catalog. From his now-classic 1999 debut Jalamanta (discussed here) through 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), he’s developed an inimitable yet highly influential style that’s become synonymous with desert rock itself. I’ve called him the “godfather of desert groove” so many times at this point my brain hurts from it, but that’s what he is, and of all the former members of Kyuss, I don’t think any of them have done so much to set the course for the aesthetic as Bjork, whatever level of commercial success they may have attained.

There are a couple different ways to look at 2007’s Somera Sól. Bjork has both composed and performed albums entirely on his own and worked with a variety of other players over the course of the last 19 years. Somera Sól was his second and final outing with Brant Bjork and the Bros., and it reunited him with drummer Alfredo Hernandez — the two had previously worked together in the short-lived trio Ché — boasted guest appearances from Olive LalliSean Wheeler on “Freaks of Nature” and Mario Lalli and Vince Meghrouni of Fatso Jetson on funk-fortified closer “Blood in the Gallery” and the penultimate “Lion Wings,” respectively, featured bassist Dylan Roche and guitarist Cortez, production from Mathias Schneeberger, and took a more forward tack than much of what Bjork had overseen in the years prior. To wit, the previous outing with The Bros. behind him, 2005’s Saved by Magic, was a 2CD that, like nearly all 2CD releases, probably would’ve been better served being split up into an actual pair of albums, and while Somera Sól would be his final offering in that incarnation, his interest in playing in a band — the 2002 LP from Brant Bjork and the Operators hadn’t actually featured a full group of players, but after his run with the semi-Kyuss reunion Vista Chino in 2013, he’d form Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band — has always come and gone.

But one might look at Somera Sól as the capstone of this particular era of Bjork‘s “solo” career. The end of The Bros., and it’s a hell of a way to go out, with hooks like “Love is Revolution,” “Freaks of Nature,” “Shrine Communications” and so on. But at the same time, Somera Sól was also a distinct shift in sound for Bjork in general. Or at very least in presentation. I always have a hard time thinking of it outside the context of the immediately preceding 2007 release Tres Dias, which was essentially comprised of solo acoustic recordings of songs new and older — it opened with “Too Many Chiefs” from Jalamanta — and gave an intimate, folkish, sometimes protest-song manifestation to material that would wind up later the same year on Somera Sól like “Love is Revolution,” “Chinarosa” and “The Native Tongue,” making the two records complementary in a way despite a vastly different context of volume and arrangement. But not only was Somera Sól full-on in terms of the complete band (and then some) at work, it was also a marked shift in production method, and cleaner-sounding than anything Bjork had produced up to that point.

This gets to to the heart of where Somera Sól lies and what Somera Sól signifies in the Brant Bjork catalog. More than a complement for Tres Dias and more than the end of the Bros. era, it’s the record that brought the full maturity of Bjork‘s approach to light for the first time. It was clear-sounding, clean-sounding. Its tones still had that laid back spirit and some telltale fuzz — “The Native Tongue” walks by and waves — but the way those came through as part of the listening experience was more professionalized, reaching out to a broader audience than records like 2003’s Keep Your Cool or 2004’s Local Angel (discussed here) could have with their rougher sound. After 2008’s somewhat reactionary Punk Rock Guilt, which was comprised of earlier recordings, it’s a method Bjork would keep to on 2010’s Gods and Goddesses (review here), and when he returned to solo work following the stint with Kyuss Lives!/Vista Chino — whose 2013 album, Peace (review here), I’ll still argue is worthy of a follow-up, especially with C.O.C.‘s Mike Dean on bass — he formed the already-noted Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band and released 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) as a predecessor to Tao of the Devil and last year’s Europe ’16 (review here) live offering. Looking back over the last 11 years of his output, Somera Sól seems to be the epicenter from which much of it emanates.

Even if it wasn’t such a choice display of songwriting or characteristic performance on the part of Bjork himself — has the dude ever sounded more like the dude than he does on “Ultimate Kickback” or “Love is Revolution?” — Somera Sól was/is a special moment in Brant Bjork‘s discography, and whether you picked up on his stuff before or after or if this is the first time you’ve ever heard anything he’s done as a solo artist, there’s no question it’s a standout moment and a defining statement of intent that continues to resonate in his work more than a decade later.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

So I went to another doctor last Friday. My two favorite lines from the entire experience? 1: “Well I don’t think you’re going to throw a clot.” Please. My life should be so interesting. 2: “You can put your undies back on.” I had no idea “undies” was a medical term. The EKG was normal, there’s no fluid around my lungs, she gave me a new pill for all the swelling that seems to be taking some of it down — I guess you’d mark it a win. Plus, she’s even further away than my regular primary care physician, so, bonus! I just love travel. Especially in Boston traffic. Best drivers.

I nonetheless spent a goodly portion of this week in a miserable daze. Seriously. Only reason I even knew today was Friday was because I had it in my notes that I needed to do this post. If I look at the calendar again and see it’s Wednesday or something I’m going to feel like a real ass.

You want to hear a nice story that’s not about me hating myself? Yesterday I took The Pecan to a record store. We were headed to the farm in Rhode Island to pick up some chicken — because you’re fucking right I drive an hour to buy chicken, and yes, I buy in bulk — and I wanted to pick up the new Judas Priest and Monster Magnet records, so I looked up where the nearest Newbury Comics — a New England institution no less than Samuel Adams, “local fahkin’ spoahts, khed” and yelling epithets at people out your car window as you pass by — was and hit the mall. I carried the baby in and perused the rock and metal sections for a while, grabbed the Priest, which was on sale. Turned out the Magnet doesn’t arrive until next week — you’d think I’d know that, right? — but I got that new Jimi Hendrix collection because, well, new Jimi Hendrix collection, and it was a good time. The baby was down for being carried around, as he has been of late to the point of screaming like fucking mad every time you put him in one of his 15 chairs, and I haven’t listened to the Hendrix yet — it’s on the agenda for today if I can ever stop putting the new Grayceon on repeat — but the first half of the Priest record rules and that’s good enough for me. It was a nice trip. Then The Pecan and I walked past Victoria’s Secret and I explained to him the importance of respecting your partner’s choices when it comes to “undies” and whatever else. The two middle-aged ladies walking for exercise in the mall were confused as hell as they went the other way by us as we walked, but they smiled anyway, because he’s a baby and that’s what people are biologically programmed to do.

So yeah, yesterday turned out alright. Also did some grocery shopping, which is pretty much standard at this point, though both buying and consuming food kind of disgusts me and there’s like this whole self-punishment aspect I’ve developed to this “refeeding” thing. I spent a lot of time this week wishing I had died when I was (apparently) starving myself. A lot. Oh well. Better luck next time. “I don’t think you’re going to throw a clot.”

As I’ve told everyone — doctors, therapist, nutritionist, my wife, even my father yesterday on the phone — if I was going to kill myself, I’d have done it by now.

The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan are off to town (to Boston, that is) today to be human beings for a while. I’m staying home, essentially to not. I have writing to do which in all likelihood I’ll blow off either to sleep or to read or to watch baseball — or all of them — while trying not to think about food or how swollen my legs still are or whatever. While I keep on keeping on, essentially, and keep listening to the new Grayceon, which fucking rules.

I’m also going to make nut butter in just a little bit. It’s about quarter to six in the morning as I write this. Hi. I’m out of my fucking mind. This time’s blend: Salted and unsalted peanuts, salted and unsalted cashews, salted macadamia nuts. Maybe some almonds if there’s room in the food processor. We’ll see. The race is on though because I expect any minute now to get the call to go upstairs and change the baby’s diaper.

Here’s what’s up for next week, subject to change blah blah blah:

Mon.: Maybe an Aeonian Sorrow review/premiere? Not sure.
Tue.: Mouth review/stream.
Wed.: Ruff Majik premiere.
Thu.: Rattlesnake premiere.
Fri.: Robespierre premiere.

There’s videos and news and such as well, I’m just not there yet on organization. I’ll figure it out. I have some other writing to do this weekend anyway — a new bio for Kings Destroy and a big announcement for Heavy Psych Sounds — so I’ll be on the laptop one way or another.

And if you’re wondering, the next Quarterly Review begins Monday, April 2.

Please have a great and safe weekend. Like I said, I’ll be around writing and likely on the social medias as well, so feel free to say hi. And please don’t forget to check out the forum and radio stream.

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 short releases

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

This is the hardest list to put together, no question. Don’t get me wrong, I put way too much thought into all of them, but this one is damn near impossible to keep up with. Every digital single, every demo, every EP, every 7″, 10″ one-sided 12″, whatever it is. There’s just too much. I’m not going to claim to have heard everything. Hell, that’s what the comments are for. Let me know what I missed. Invariably, something.

So while the headers might look similar, assuming I can ever remember which fonts I use from one to the next, this list has a much different personality than, say, the one that went up earlier this week with the top 20 debuts of 2017. Not that I heard everyone’s first record either, but we’re talking relative ratios here. The bottom line is please just understand I’ve done my best to hear as much as possible. I’m only one person, and there are only so many hours in the day. Eventually your brain turns into riffy mush.

With that caveat out of the way, I’m happy to present the following roundup of some of what I thought were 2017’s best short releases. That’s EPs, singles, demos, splits — pretty much anything that wasn’t a full-length album, and maybe one or two things that were right on the border of being one. As between genres, the lines are blurry these days. That’s part of what makes it fun.

Okay, enough dawdling. Here we go:

lo-pan-in-tensions

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

1. Lo-Pan, In Tensions
2. Godhunter, Codex Narco
3. Year of the Cobra, Burn Your Dead
4. Shroud Eater, Three Curses
5. Stubb, Burning Moon
6. Canyon, Canyon
7. Solace, Bird of Ill Omen
8. Kings Destroy, None More
9. Tarpit Boogie, Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam
10. Supersonic Blues, Supersonic Blues Theme
11. Come to Grief, The Worst of Times EP
12. Rope Trick, Red Tape
13. Eternal Black, Live at WFMU
14. IAH, IAH
15. Bong Wish, Bong Wish EP
16. Rattlesnake, Outlaw Boogie Demo
17. Hollow Leg, Murder
18. Mars Red Sky, Myramyd
19. Avon, Six Wheeled Action Man Tank 7″
20. Wretch, Bastards Born

Honorable Mention

Across Tundras, Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain
The Discussion, Tour EP
Fungus Hill, Creatures
Switchblade Jesus & Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven
The Grand Astoria, The Fuzz of Destiny
Test Meat, Demo
Blood Mist, Blood Mist
Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell
Dautha, Den Foerste
Scuzzy Yeti, Scuzzy Yeti
Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard Part 2
Decasia, The Lord is Gone
Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore, Split 7″

I can’t imagine I won’t add a name or two or five to this section over the next few days as I think of other things and people remind me of stuff and so on, so keep an eye out, but the point is there’s way more than just what made the top 20. That Across Tundras single would probably be on the list proper just on principle, but I heard it like a week ago and it doesn’t seem fair. Speaking of unfair, The Discussion, Howling Giant, The Grand Astoria and the Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore split all deserve numbered placement easily. I might have to make this a top 30 in 2018, just to assuage my own guilt at not being able to include everything I want to include. For now though, yeah, this is just the tip of the doomberg.

Notes

To be totally honest with you, that Lo-Pan EP came out Jan. 13 and pretty much had the year wrapped up in my head from that point on. It was going to be hard for anything to top In Tensions, and the Godhunter swansong EP came close for the sense of stylistic adventurousness it wrought alone, and ditto that for Year of the Cobra’s bold aesthetic expansions on Burn Your Dead and Shroud Eater’s droning Three Cvrses, but every time I heard Jeff Martin singing “Pathfinder,” I knew it was Lo-Pan’s year and all doubt left my mind. Of course, for the Ohio four-piece, In Tensions is something of a one-off with the departure already of guitarist Adrian Zambrano, but I still have high hopes for their next record. It would be hard not to.

The top five is rounded out by Stubb’s extended jam/single “Burning Moon,” which was a spacey delight and new ground for them to cover. The self-titled debut EP from Philly psych rockers Canyon, which they’ve already followed up, is next. I haven’t had the chance to hear the new one yet, but Canyon hit a sweet spot of psychedelia and heavy garage that made me look forward to how they might develop, so I’ll get there sooner or later. Solace’s return was nothing to balk at with their cassingle “Bird of Ill Omen” and the Sabbath cover with which they paired it, and though Kings Destroy weirded out suitably on the 14-minute single-song EP None More, I hear even greater departures are in store with their impending fourth LP, currently in progress.

A couple former bandmates of mine feature in Tarpit Boogie in guitarist George Pierro and bassist John Eager, and both are top dudes to be sure, but even if we didn’t have that history, it would be hard to ignore the tonal statement they made on their Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam EP. If you didn’t hear it, go chase it down on Bandcamp. Speaking of statements, Supersonic Blues’ Supersonic Blues Theme 7″ was a hell of an opening salvo of classic boogie that I considered to be one of the most potential-laden offerings of the year. Really. Such warmth to their sound, but still brimming with energy in the most encouraging of ways. Another one that has to be heard to be believed.

The dudes are hardly newcomers, but Grief offshoot Come to Grief sounded pretty fresh — and raw — on their The Worst of Times EP, and the Massachusetts extremists check in right ahead of fellow New Englangers Rope Trick, who are an offshoot themselves of drone experimentalists Queen Elephantine. Red Tape was a demo in the demo tradition, and pretty formative sounding, but seemed to give them plenty of ground on which to develop their aesthetic going forward, and I wouldn’t ask more of it than that.

Eternal Black gave a much-appreciated preview of their Bleed the Days debut long-player with Live at WFMU and earned bonus points for recording it at my favorite radio station, while Argentine trio IAH probably went under a lot of people’s radar with their self-titled EP but sent a fervent reminder that that country’s heavy scene is as vibrant as ever. Boston-based psych/indie folk outfit Bong Wish were just the right combination of strange, melodic and acid-washed to keep me coming back to their self-titled EP on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and as Adam Kriney of The Golden Grass debuted his new project Rattlesnake with the Outlaw Boogie demo, the consistency of his songcraft continued to deliver a classic feel. Another one to watch out for going into the New Year.

I wasn’t sure if it was fair to include Hollow Leg’s Murder or not since it wound up getting paired with a special release of their latest album, but figured screw it, dudes do good work and no one’s likely to yell about their inclusion here. If you want to quibble, shoot me a comment and quibble away. Mars Red Sky only released Myramyd on vinyl — no CD, no digital — and I never got one, but heard a private stream at one point and dug that enough to include them here anyway. They remain perennial favorites.

Avon, who have a new record out early in 2018 on Heavy Psych Sounds, delivered one of the year’s catchiest tracks with the “Six Wheeled Action Man Tank” single. I feel like I’ve had that song stuck in my head for the last two months, mostly because I have. And Wretch may or may not be defunct at this point — I saw word that drummer Chris Gordon was leaving the band but post that seems to have disappeared now, so the situation may be in flux — but their three-songer Bastards Born EP was a welcome arrival either way. They round out the top 20 because, well, doom. Would be awesome to get another LP out of them, but we’ll see I guess.

One hopes that nothing too egregious was left off, but one again, if there’s something you feel like should be here that isn’t, please consider the invitation to leave a comment open and let me know about it. Hell, you know what? Give me your favorites either way, whether you agree with this list or not. It’s list season, do it up. I know there’s the Year-End Poll going, and you should definitely contribute to that if you haven’t, but what was your favorite EP of the year? The top five? Top 10? I’m genuinely curious. Let’s talk about it.

Whether you have a pick or not (and I hope you do), thanks as always for reading. May the assault of short releases continue unabated in 2018 and beyond.

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