Release DetailsLABEL Duna Records
RELEASED ON 5/7/2007
Brant Bjork And The Bros
posted on 10/2007 By:
I don’t expect you to understand this, because, lord knows, the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized how abstract/contradictory/plain stupid my ideas are, but I figure this is worth a shot: Have you ever heard an album and thought, “Yeah, no matter what else this guy puts out, this is what I’ll always associate him with and what I’ll always compare his later work too”? It might not be his/her best, it might not even be good, but you regard it as being everything that the artist is and everything they’re trying to be. And, most importantly, you love it. It’s like revisiting an old friend whenever it starts to spin and the laser fires at its underbelly (or the needle hits wax for you vinyl fiends). You age, but for some strange reason, it doesn’t and it never fails to bring you back to “better days.“ I’m going out on a limb, sure, but have you ever felt that? Yeah? Please, for the sake of my sanity, tell me yes!
Anyway, the whole reason I brought that up is this: This week, when I started work on Brant Bjork & the Bros.’s Somera Sól, I pulled out Mr. Bjork’s lone Man’s Ruin solo release, Jalamanta, for research, and, for me, it‘s the epitome of one of the albums I described above. Pourquois? Well, Jalamanta easily encapsulates everything I like about the former Kyuss and current Fu Manchu and Mondo Generator member’s solo career. The laid-back nature of the tunes contained within was, and still is, super-appealing to me, as the tracks never forced you to pay attention. Instead, like my buddy said when I spun it for him, the songs float around like freshly exhaled bong smoke rising towards a ceiling; an apt metaphor since the album was gloriously hazy and unfocused, never staying with an idea for too long. And, really, ideas were the only thing that made up Jalamanta, certainly not fleshed out songs, since the self-jam sessions were layered flights of fancy and definitely not thought out, well constructed ditties. But that was the whole appeal; it was free and easy and, naturally, everything sounded like experiments instead of concrete forms, bringing together soul and funk, Santana and punk, rock and stoner culture junk. Bjork’s knack for unique melodies was on full display, but it was the atmosphere that made it a winner, coming off like a perfect lazy summer record (and, would you expect anything different from tracks titled, “Waiting for the Coconut to Drop” or “Sun Brother”?). The extended pieces drew you in, making you wish they’d never end (the seriously groovy “Automantic Fantastic” or the beautiful “Defender of the Oleander”). They also were able to just make your head bob and obscured the fact that, beyond Bjork’s clever guitar and bass interplay, not a whole lot was going on. Even when something took on a bit more artistic heft (“Coconut”’s bassline sounded similar to Dave Holland & Barre Phillips’s “Song for Clare,” which is so cool), it never became obvious, never really became something that ceaselessly tried to duel for your attention. No, it embraced a refreshing sort of, “I‘ll be here if you want to listen to me,” attitude. Jalamanta was fuzzy by design and that made it what it was, and, sadly, is everything that Somera Sól is not.
That’s not to say that Somera Sól is a bad album. In fact, I like it more than the first Bjork plus the Bros. release, ‘05’s sprawling double disc Saved By Magic. It certainly rocks harder and louder than anything in his sorta-solo catalogue, and, at times, wouldn’t sound too out of place on radio, provided the station had taken a liking to Josh Homme’s current projects. “Turn Yourself On,” for example, is hook driven rock with a decent chorus and an ultra-familiar guitar line that sends a message that maybe Bjork wants to hit the airwaves again now that FM is starting to re-warm to the stoners (Honestly, if you told me this was the new Open Hand single, I wouldn’t doubt you for a second). And, even though it’s a tad heavier, a tad more driven, Bjork’s non-abrasive guitar tone remains, keeping everything pretty accessible and, well, fun. So, because of that, it’s not surprising to note that Somera Sól is another summer record. It’s something to slip into the deck when June/July rolls around, something that should be playing while you and your friends take a drive down the beach, something that is inevitably going to show up on a surfing DVD. But, it doesn’t hit me right, maybe because it’s too controlled and too focused or maybe because the songs tend to be fairly forgettable (Aside: Same thing plagued Saved By Magic and Local Angel. Not a whole lot sticks. A virtue on Jalamanta, a curse everywhere else. It‘s missing that vibe, uh, man). And, I guess I’m still trying to figure out why.
I do have ideas, though. The first being that I never could get into Bjork’s vocal style. Imagine a congested Steve Miller (“Take the Money and Run” during flu season) and you’re headed in the right direction. After Jalamanta, his singing became more of the focus, as he slowly phased out the wonderful rhythm guitar parts and atypical bass lines for more conventional (I mean, as conventional as funk/soul infused stoner rock can get) hooky rock song structures. During the transition, Bjork’s lyrics were also pushed to the forefront, something that was easy to ignore early on because the vocals were stuck under layers of guitars. His jive talking never seems to fit nor does it fall under the category of exciting linguistic acrobatics like, say, The Nazz (and we‘re stretching…). Sure, there are topics I’m familiar with (California’s deserts) and topics I can get behind (partying), but, unlike his guitar/bass playing, it’s something that doesn’t draw me in, doesn’t make me want to listen.
What does make me want to listen are the tiny jams that stretch these songs past the boundaries of “normal” rock songs in this style. Nearly every song has an extra minute tacked on and, more often than not, these scant few minutes work better than the song themselves. It’s not that “Lion Wings”’s trippy, stoned-out space rock fails to get the toe tapping (the soulful, almost free jazz-like at times, tenor sax is a nice touch, like Clarence from the E Street Band dropped acid before a show), but when the band frees themselves from trying to write something catchy and concise and they start examining possible variations, their adeptness in the realm of improvisation takes over. The Bros. all seem to be in tune with each other, easily playing off one another and always taking into account proper mood, pacing, etc. It’s not eye opening stuff, but when they start to play around and let down their rather commercial-minded guard (Even the production is the slickest Bjork has ever sounded), it feels so good. So, in that regard, Somera Sól reminds me of a Grateful Dead studio album: a few decent cuts, sure, but the really good stuff must take place during a live set when they‘re freer to experiment. When it comes to the Bros. in the studio though, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. Bottom line, this is worth a look if you’ve got a thing for slightly retro, funky stoner rock, but I would advise you to start, ahem, somewhere else first (Hint: Starts with a J and rhymes with alamanta).
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