Review Summary: Roll it slow
The whole palm-desert rock scene that's been kicking around for a couple decades in the southern United States never really gained much of an international foothold. With the exception of the legendary Kyuss, who went on to achieve great fame and who's members founded such renowned musical acts as Queens of the Stone Age, the desert rock scene has often stayed very much within the confines of it's own locale, just a bunch of musicians making similar music they all enjoyed. Chances are, if you see one 'desert rock' musician in one band, he's been in at least two others. Brant Bjork is no stranger to this concept; after drumming and writing for the aforementioned kings of the scene, Kyuss, Bjork (pronounced Byerk) went on to perform in The Desert Sessions, Fu Manchu, Mondo Generator, and make countless other appearances on various EP's and albums from an array of rock and punk bands.
As a man of many talents; gifted drummer, guitarist, bassist, and songwriter (remember Kyuss' “Green Machine?” Yeah, that was him.), Bjork also had huge potential for a fruitful and enjoyable solo career. So, perhaps inevitably, following his depature from Kyuss after their opus release Welcome to Sky Valley, Bjork quickly began work on his first solo release. Jalamanta is the result of a creatively free mind working at the best and freshest of it's ability.
With all this talk of stoner rock band Kyuss, it would be easy to get the wrong impression about this album. Jalamanta does not take it's cues from thunderous distorted riffs or angry, strained vocals; it is dominated by winding bass grooves, semi-clean guitar licks and driving drum beats. Perhaps reflecting a time in Bjork's life when his musical palette was dominated by reggae and jazz, and he could spend his evenings riding around the palm desert on his bike listening to his own demos in the evening cool, Jalamanta is rock 'n' roll at it's grooviest and most laid-back. Opener 'Automatic Fantastic' sets the scene perfectly in this respect. Revolving around an infectious, clean guitar lick, the song is a winding 7-minute jam session with sparse vocal verses. When Bjork does rise to the microphone here he sings of slow evening rides and, in true desert rock fashion, marijuana, before drifting back into the breezy instrumental improvisation and warm bass tones of the album. 'Cobra Jab' follows up as an entirely instrumental exploration of some tribal drum beats, again showcasing Bjork's sense of rhythm and groove.
That's not to say this album is devoid of excitement. 'Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians' picks up the pace shortly with a rolling drumbeat and driving guitarwork and some proper vocal lines; an instantly likeable tune, the song has become something of a classic amongst Bjork's small and devoted fanbase. 'Toot' and 'Her Brown Blood' offer similar variation, but album highlight 'Low Desert Punk' is the real slap-in-the-face; after some swelling ambiance the song launches into an utterly irresistible, chugging, forceful (but still not overly distorted riff) in one of the album's most energetic moments (closely tied with 'Her Brown Blood's wah-wah soloing); if this album was ever funded enough to have singles, it's no doubt this instantly loveable number and it's endlessly “jam-able” riff would be first on the list.
But in some ways it is the spacey, chilled groovy cuts of the album that let it shine best. The warm guitar and bass tones blend together perfectly over Bjork's impressive drumming to form some of the most unique and intriguing musical explorations in what can often become quite a stagnant and confined musical genre. This is truly music for a late summer's evening drive, a leisurely cruise through Bjork's clean guitar licks and soothing bass. Jalamanta is blissful escape from the chaos of day to day life, a 57-minute journey alongside a musically inspired Bjork on a late evening drive through the palm desert of Southern California. This is a summer album if there ever was one.
Recommended Tracks: Automatic Fantastic, Low Desert Punk, Too Many Chiefs..., Defender of the Oleander, Waiting for the Coconut to Drop