Jalamanta

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (Remixed and Remastered 2019)

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (Originally 1999, Remixed and Remastered 2019 Heavy Psych Sounds)

When the needle hits wax it won’t be long,
You got your radio tuned but it won’t play this song.

20 years ago, Jalamanta was one of my favourite albums in the world.  This is my third copy.  Partly instrumental, partly vocal, but 100% Brant Bjork.  It was his first solo album, and he played virtually everything himself.  The laid-back desert vibes are perfect for a summer evening chill-out.  Humid, sparse, exotic, varied compositions take you across a hazy landscape.

In 2019, Brant and engineer Tony Mason remixed Jalamanta, to take it the place they “always wanted it to go”.  The remixes are largely subtle, just making the album sound bigger in your ears.  The vocals might be a little less buried.  It’s still raw, and sparse, and all the things you always liked about Jalamanta.  Some songs have more noticeable differences.  More guitar on “Toot”.  Tracks tend to run longer than their previous fade-outs.  But there are things I enjoyed about the original that aren’t here.  The echoey lead vocal on “Toot” — “Cat scan, cat scan…”  That echo is gone, maybe so the sonic field wouldn’t be too crowded with that louder backing guitar?

This remix will never replace an original, especially when it was one of my favourites 20 years ago.  What is “Jalamanta” made of that makes it so tasty?  Only the most basic of ingredients.  Rolling bass and drums, simple unaffected guitar parts, and Brant’s laid back singing style.

Yeah, the man shakes me down and that’s why I’m broke.
The rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke.
So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow.
We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Snakey guitars jab in and out of the speakers — one song is even called “Cobra Jab”.   Other tunes are more aggressive.  “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” has a relentless and simple riff, with the snakey guitars carrying the melody over it like a wave.  Brant’s quiet vocal is hypnotic.  By contrast, “Defender of the Oleander” has a barely-there main riff while the snakey licks do all the brilliant melodic work.  Brant goes for hypnotic again on “Her Brown Blood”, a speedy run through the desert, with a cool monotone vocal right in the middle of your head.

Whichever version of Jalamanta you happen upon, you are guaranteed an incredible listening experience.  The new remix is certainly more three-dimensional, and will sound better on your big system.  But you will lose some of the charm of the original.  The 2009 vinyl used to be the way to go, with a beautiful full-colour booklet and Blue Oyster Cult cover “Take Me Away”.  But now you can get “Take Me Away” here on CD, albeit remixed.  Another bonus is exclusive to this CD — “Bones Lazy”, which segues out of “Defender of the Oleander” into the brilliant rocker “Low Desert Punk”.  And with the title “Bones Lazy”, you won’t be surprised that it is “Lazy Bones” backwards!  Like you’re watching Tenet.  Cool though.  Even though I knew what was likely coming, I felt like it fit right in.

Get a load of this, man.

Well I’m gettin’ up when the sun goes down,
And I shine ’em up and I hit the town.
Well I trim it clean and I roll it up,
And then I take it nice and slow…so what the fuck, man.

Jalamanta makes me feel that California sun way more than any Desert Sessions CD ever has.  You can taste it.  Let it sink into your lazy bones.   And as great as this new CD is sonically, it also makes me want to hear the original.  Nothing can truly upgrade a 20 years love affair with Jalamanta.  As a complimentary piece, I don’t regret owning or listening to it at all.  Hearing guitar parts that used to be beyond the fade is the kind of bait that we nerds line up for.  The 2009 vinyl, with the gorgeous embossed cover and all that delicious photography inside, will remain my preferred way to experience Jalamanta.  The 2019 remix will be the one to play when you want to examine it in more thorough detail.

(still) 5/5 stars

 

Original CD and vinyl releases seen below.

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (1999/2009 vinyl)

 

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (1999 / 180 gram vinyl 2009 reissue)

I still remember the circumstances surrounding me originally getting this on CD.  As recounted in an earlier Record Store Tale, Tom and I were at a party.  We were listening to some sHeavy, and Tom mentioned the Brant Bjork solo album as another must-have.  Being a fan of Brant Bjork’s drumming from Fu Manchu, I ordered it without hearing a single track.  Tom attempted to describe it by calling it “a cross between Fu Manchu and surf rock.”  Interesting.

10 years later, when Bjork reissued it on vinyl, he added the UFO-centric Blue Oyster Cult cover bonus track, “Take Me Away”.  Automatic re-buy.  It doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album, but who cares?  It’s Brant Bjork covering Blue Oyster Cult.  But that’s not the only reason to re-buy Jalamanta.

What a beautiful record! The first thing you’ll notice is the new cover.  All black with the Brant Bjork skull embossed.  Beautiful.  Open it up to get at the booklet with all new photos. The booklet truly is a work of art. Remember when you used to buy an LP, and you’d sit down in front of your stereo staring at the pictures, trying to make out every little detail until the record was done? Brant Bjork takes us back to that time.

The cover page is what appears to be an awesomely greasy Mexican meal, and then the final page is the empty plate — a satisfied customer. Just like with this LP.  You can really get stuffed on the grooves and tones contained herein.  There are plenty of low-key, incessantly grooving instruments.  The music is simple, repetitive, but effective.  It’s not heavy, but it feels weighty nonetheless.

The lyrics are included.  Here’s an example, from “Automatic Fantastic”:

The man shakes me down, that’s why I’m broke. Rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke. So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow. We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Musically, if you haven’t heard this album before, I don’t really know how to describe the songs.  Bjork plays almost everything himself, and the vibe is laid back.  He sings on every song but “Toot” which is handled by Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson). He’s chosen to mix his vocals way back and emphasize the unadorned guitars and drums.  The mix is spare, quiet at times, loud at others, but always trippy. Imagine driving down a deserted highway on a hot summer night with the windows down. This is the soundtrack to that ride.

This is one of those album that sounds like it was just meant to be heard on 180 gram vinyl. There’s no sound like it in the world. I noticed a heck of a lot more bass, the bassline on “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” being particularly sublime. This album just sounds stunning now.

5/5 stars

  1. “Lazy Bones” – 1:29
  2. “Automatic Fantastic” – 6:59
  3. “Cobra Jab” – 3:18
  4. “Too Many Chiefs…Not Enough Indians” – 3:44
  5. “Sun Brother” – 4:45
  6. “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” – 4:45
  1. “Toot” – 5:58
  2. “Defender of the Oleander” – 7:53
  3. “The Low Desert Punk” – 5:20
  4. “Waiting for a Coconut to Drop” – 4:17
  5. “Her Brown Blood” – 4:16
  6. “Indio” – 4:15
  7. “Take Me Away” – 5:35 (Blue Öyster Cult cover) vinyl only bonus track

Part 204: An Introduction to sHEAVY

sHEAVY_0002

Back then in the olden days, you were actually expected to type that whole url into your browser!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 204:  An Introduction to sHEAVY

MARCH, 2000.  Saturday night.  One of our store owners was throwing a house party.  Tom, being the usual musical selector at parties, put a cassette on for me.  He rewound to the beginning and hit “play”.

“Mike,” he said, wild-eyed with excitement.  “One of my customers gave me this tape.  It’s the new Ozzy.  It’s not out yet.  This is a bootleg copy.”

This intense, guitar heavy distortion faded in.  The voice, also distorted and processed, was a dead ringer for a young Ozzy!

“Ozzy’s singing great, isn’t he?” Tom inquired mischievously.

“That’s not Zakk Wylde on guitar,” I retorted.  “I’d know if it was Zakk, and that guy’s not Zakk.”

Tom faltered.  “That’s, uhhh, the new guy.”

I called bullshit.  “This isn’t Ozzy.  It sounds a hell of a lot like early Sabbath, and it’s really good, but it’s not Ozzy.”

“Fuck!” Tom spat out.  “I can’t believe you got it so fast.  When I heard it, I truly thought it was new Ozzy at first.  At least the way the new Ozzy should be, you know what I mean?  Hear all that fuckin’ Sabbath going on there?”

I did indeed hear all the Sabbath going on.  In fact, of all the bands that people hyped to me as being “Sabbath-y”, this band came closest.

The band is from St John’s, Canada, and they are called Sheavy.  They kicked serious ass.  The album we were listening to was 1998’s The Electric Sleep.  The song:  “Virtual Machine”.  Often found on many bit torrent sites as a “lost” Black Sabbath reunion song.  It is not.  It is Sheavy, and that’s how close they nail the vintage Black Sabbath sound.

sHEAVY_0003The singer is a fellow named Steve Hennessey, and according to the CD booklet, he once had an audition with Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath’s then-producer, Bob Marlette!  What could that have been for?  An Iommi solo album, or Sabbath itself?  The CD doesn’t reveal.  “Special thanks to Tony Iommi, Bob Marlette, Ralph Baker and Paul Loasby for the audition and an experience I will never forget,” is all it says!  He nails every inflection that Ozzy used to do, it’s that uncanny.

I marveled at the music, and decided to buy it the next day.  I ordered it from Amazon along with Jalamanta, the first solo album from then-Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork.  (Even though I worked in a record store, there was no point in trying to order obscurities like these through our supplier.)  When they arrived, I was blown away by both.  I occasionally brought Sheavy to the store to play at work, and many people asked if this was the new Sabbath or the new Ozzy.  “Nope,” I’d say.  “This is a band from Newfoundland and Labrador called Sheavy.  They’re awesome.”

Unfortunately for a Canadian band, their albums were really hard to find!  A little while later, I picked up the next album, Celestial Hi-Fi, on Japanese import, from HMV.  The bonus track “Nine December” is an asskicker that made it worth the extra cash.  They’re just an awesome band, and they grew past the Sabbath-clone tag after a couple albums.  Unfortunately, toiling away in relative obscurity for almost 20 years has taken its toll, and the band’s future is uncertain.  For that reason I’m grateful they’ve left many great albums behind.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at The Electric Sleep in a detailed review.  Check back soon.