Brant Bjork – Brant Bjork (Album Review)

Desert Rock pioneer Brant Bjork returns with a new record, titled simply Brant Bjork, set for release Friday, April 10th through Heavy Psych Sounds.

Coming on the heels of his decades-ago debut, Jalamanta, seeing re-release last year, which came after the long-delayed Jacoozzi (both through Heavy Psych Sounds) finally seeing light the year before that, Brant Bjork offers eight shining tracks baked with the smooth, dusty sound Bjork used to shape and lead the Desert Rock scene almost three decades ago.

During his time spent with Kyuss (which he co-founded, along with its spiritual successor Vista Chino), Fu Manchu, and Mondo Generator, Bjork also kept a steady stream of releases under his own name, often handling the playing and recording himself, as he does here. John MacBain, formerly of Monster Magnet, returns to master the final product after overseeing Bjork’s more recent output.

While there is a certain advantage to being the flagship artist of a genre, Bjork is not content to rest on recycled ideas. As with most of his work, the songs can stand alone as needed, but the diversity of the album may best be appreciated when spun all at once without interruption. His natural knack for improvisation, coupled with a strong attention to detail, makes it impossible to guess which (if any) of the tracks were written months in advance or created immediately in the studio.

The songs are loosely connected, not just by the crisp percussion Bjork is perhaps best known for, but also his accompanying instrumentation and comfortably monotone vocals; the meandering guitar, in particular, is a constant throughout the album, starting with “Jungle in the Sound,” which combines a bit of Eastern guitar flair (perhaps as a nod to the title) amidst percussion and understated vocals.

Then there is “Duke of Dynamite” which combines a terse, methodical bass-line with oft-meandering fuzzy guitar, backed by a rigid, straightforward drumbeat coupled to tambourine. Meanwhile, “Mary (You’re Such A Lady)” weaves and bends its way through the listener’s head, and the muted yell of the chorus—essentially Bjork preaching the subtitle—briefly takes a back seat to some short, spoken word pieces.

The pace quickens with “Shitkickin’ Now,” a roaring hobo train ride that implores the listener to keep up. The stop/start staccato techniques used on “Cleaning Out the Ashtray” and “Stardust & Diamond Eyes” add fresh, disjointed flavor to the album, while the strained vocals and thumping bassline of “Jesus Was a Bluesman” create an eerie feel that parallels pieces of the odd Nirvana hit “Polly.” The short, stripped-down closer “Been So Long” features Bjork boiled down to vocals and acoustic guitar, with his pipes filling most of the space.

No stranger to improvisation, Brant Bjork finds its namesake exploring territory both familiar and challenging, and its eight tracks take a variety of side trips and detours that somehow end up paralleling the main path of the album. For those fans still seeking satiation even after the man’s collection of recent releases, Brant Bjork will provide an energizing respite, while fans from larger name projects will be pleasantly surprised by the strength of this latest solo record. For this, Cryptic Rock is pleased gives 3.5 out of 5 stars to the new, self-titled record from multi-instrumentalist Brant Bjork.

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