New Music: Friday Roll Out! With Brant Bjork, Sparta, Savak, Gaythiest, Local H, Manatee Commune

It’s 4/10 today and most will look into the date as being cooped up in homes in an attempt to flatten that curve. Others of course are anticipating 10 days from now when all bets are off at home. It’s my hope that everyone focuses on baked THC goods, gummies, and oils instead of blazing, whether it’s the normal way or vaping. Remember, this virus, it’s respiratory. We all need to try to do what’s best. Me? I never said I imbibe, but then again, I never said I didn’t.

This week has been heavy, burdened by responsibilities at a time when everyone wants to stay in. But the music spreading this week has been welcomingly heavy as well. But I sometime find the need to decompress with something that varies from what’s in front of me. Enter: Manatee Commune with Crescent Lake (Bastard Jazz), which is the brainchild of Grant Eadie out of the Evergreen State. Eadie gets creatively clever on this new E.P. of his, allowing the songs to take on a life of their own, which float on a seascape of sound embracing all the beauty around them. That’s how “Mossy Corners” allows one to feel. It drifts with such lingering sweetness, I’m hardpressed to just move on to the next track. But “Majestic Diver” finds a much more controlled effort, a bit more in-your-face and stands as matter-of-fact with a commanding drum pattern. This right here is bound to put anyone in the best mood possible.

Searching through the numerous releases, Gaytheist hits my desk, my hard drive, my very essence. The band released Let’s Jam Again Soon back in 2017 and return now with How Long Have I Been On Fire? which I’m obliged to say, probably as long as the band has existed. Gaytheist has been tagged as a “noise” band but it’s so much more than that. Their movements are rooted in prog rock and drummer Nikolis Parks is a force to be reckoned with. The group is rhythm-heavy and the group’s influences can’t be denied as the band performs with reckless abandon. The trio is in complete control though, and it can be heard on the shifting dynamics of “Choices End In Death.” It sounds all over the place but this is beautiful controlled chaos. 

Whenever we find a long stretch of time in between releases by a band with a visceral edge to it, you have to wonder if it’s still there or not. If there’s a change or is the group challenging not only listeners but itself. These are important things to look at time and time again. It really is something we have to consider when there hasn’t been any new material in well over a decade. When such a large amount of time passes, we can’t expect a group to have the same ideals, youthfulness, or most importantly, members.

This is the challenge with Sparta, who hasn’t released any new material for the past 14 years. The band’s last release, 2006’s Threes, showed a bit of mellowing from 2004’s Porcelain, and now with founding members Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar – who along with Jim Ward were part of post-hardcore’s At The Drive-In – no longer in the fray, there’s bound to be a shift. But just how drastic is the change here? Well, Sparta’s new Trust The River (Dine Alone) isn’t quite what was expected here. Given, both Ward and bassist Matt Miller still remain, and are joined by guitarist Gabriel Gonzalez and drummer Cully Symington, but things certainly have changed.

For the most part, Trust The River comes across as an album created as a project for a singer/songwriter. There are songs that move at a much more intense pace like “Cat Scream” but they’re offset by the much more whimsical deliveries of songs Like “Turquoise Dream” that are reminiscent of forgotten bands like The Alarm, or even The La’s. Even these songs seem out of place along the even more disparate “Spirit.” With an unnamed guest vocalist, the track is a shell of song that attempts to capture the magic of a Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan collaboration. Yes, I agree that comparisons are cheaper than a Vietnamese hotel stay but bear with me here. The disparity in sound from track to track is scattershot and leaves me wondering where the band is heading. Deliveries are lukewarm and I wish to God they weren’t. The piano-driven “Dead End Signs” possibly places the nail on the coffin with Ward’s shaky vocals and less-than-interesting delivery. “Miracle” isn’t bad though but one song isn’t enough to hold my attention for a full-length release.

Left sad and disappointed, I wanted more out of Sparta’s Trust The River. In fact, I was excited to hear the band had a new album on the horizon. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Sparta I once knew. 

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Like some throwback from a time almost forgotten, many find looking at themselves as if aged dinosaurs holding onto what we all believe is special and simply don’t want the world to forget. Unlike visual art, music can become dated and lost within the mix of “classic” rock stations, and for those underground releases we hold dear would soon be forgotten if we let them. Where am I going with this? I’ll get to it, I promise.

Savak is relatively a new-ish band, with it’s first release dropping just a few years ago in 2016, Best Of Luck In Future Endeavors (Comedy Minus One) but have since released two more album in as many years. The band just released its new album Rotting Teeth In The Horse’s Mouth (Ernest Jenning Record Co.) and the band has found its groove possibly culminating in its finest work. And why shouldn’t it? Members of the Savak have done time in other groups like Holy Fuck, Edsel, and The Cops. There’s talent here to begin with. But the band obviously differs from its previous associated groups and takes on a life all its own here.

The band’s 80s and 90s influences, and possibly late 70s as well, is obvious here for those that know. For those that don’t, well, you may want to search out other groups like Gang of Four and Buzzcocks (although I have to admit that I do love the Buzcocks music that came later in the bands career from ’99 and on. But I digress.) This isn’t about the group’s influences though, it’s about Savak and it’s ability to pull so much clever melody into its music along with an array of clanging guitar sputtering that’s infectious. There’s no better example than on “Listening” where the band’s melodic thrust runs rampant through the song itself. Guitars and vocal melodies works well alongside one another while the rhythm section keep everything in place. Some tracks like “Vis – A-Vis” give way to nostalgia, allowing a reckoning of imagery while “Augourd’hui” takes a jangly guitar style and elevates it far beyond what any other artist has been able to accomplish within the style of performance.

What is it that Rotting Teeth In The Horse’s Mouth should mean to everyone? Well, I don’t know because that’s for everyone to decide individually. What I do know is Savak has raised the bar with the new album, making it difficult for its contemporaries to catch up. Simply put: it’s pretty bad ass.

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Releasing album after album and leaving a healthy catalog of music at your feet, all the while remaining influential isn’t an easy task. Especially when you’ve been a part of establishing a genre of music, that continues to be a relevant factor since its early beginnings.

It’s been almost 30 years since the release of Kyuss’ Wretch, and the group’s founding member Brant Bjork has set out on a whirlwind of releases throughout the years giving stoner rock fans a different side, a varied taste of the genre he and his fans have embraced. Recording with bands Mondo Generator, Fu Manchu, and Fatso Jetson, Bjork has kept busy, also recording & releasing over a dozen albums, remixes, and live releases under his own name. The multi-instrumentalist knows no bound. But this isn’t a fucking history lesson and it’s not what you’re here for.

Brant Bjork truly is an artist to be reckoned with and his latest self-titled release (Heavy Psych Sounds Records), is a clear example of it. From track to track, the songs aren’t forced and are sound organically birthed. There are a number of repetitive motions within verses but that just might be the appeal, as listeners are drawn into the deserty sound. Listening to “Mary (You’re Such A Lady)” is a good example, with a few notes struck over and over, it becomes hypnotic, becoming mind-numbing and addictive in its delivery. The bass booms without even trying and Bjork’s conversational vocal delivery is as enticing, that is until his vocal cadence is shifted when he sings the chorus, “You’re such a lady/A pretty lady.” A simple guitar lead is all that’s needed as well, nothing more, nothing less, to generate such subdued power. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

“Jungle In The Sound” opens the album and that same unrestrained ease is found here as well. Bjork is masterful in his delivery, his less-is-more simplicity that allows the song to transcend without populating it with an overabundance of instrumentation or layers. After listening to the track alone, everyone can comprehend why he’s so beloved in many circles outside of the genre he commands. Who knew he could get funktified as well? “Stardust And Diamond Eyes” is just that, with guitar and bass following the same pattern, hitting the same notes as drums play in the background/foreground and the subdued congas seep in.

Was I expecting something different from Brant Bjork on this new release? Maybe something heavier but instead received the blessing of the nine track album that’s just completely mind-melding. It’s just beautifully done.| Twitter |

Given, when a group finds success and regular rotation on radio and MTV, circa ’96, ’97, life is probably fantastic. Constant touring in support of your album is required and you’re introduced to an assortment of new fans. But then the tastes of fickle fans shift as they constantly do and many might forgot. I’m no stranger to a number of bands or even my previous statement.

Up until about 3 years I wasn’t aware of Local H’s perseverance throughout the years until I was out one night and invited to see the Toadies on the road. Local H opened for the band to a packed room of music listeners as if it were 1998. I’ll admit, the two-member band did deliver with a fiery raucousness and now finding the band with its new LIFERS (AntiFragile Music), I was intrigued. The band has gone through changes since its inception, with vocalist/guitarist Scott Lucas being the one consistent member of the group while drummer Ryan Harding has been playing in the group since 2013.

I’m not one to mention any additional players when I don’t think it really matters, although for LIFERS Juliana Hatfield and John McCauley of Deer Tick lend a hand on the album. Of course, the band’s dynamic and raw sound was also recorded by Albini, another name I wouldn’t have mentioned but, working with Local H is fitting, sharing a likeminded aesthetic. But it’s the album everyone wants to focus on here right? The album surges with the opener “Patrick Bateman,” with a freneticism that’s uncanny. The band fills every available space here with thunderous percussive beats, distorted guitars leveled at 11, and unexpected background harmonies. Local H isn’t fucking around in the slightest! I’m sure many of you are hesitant and probably think the band doesn’t have anything new to offer but you’d be wrong; this has been what’s missing today. While there are some moments where Scott Lucas howls like Bleach-era Cobain – “High Wide And Stupid” – but it’s probably to be expected. That alone shouldn’t be distraction from the great melodies found on “Winter Western” where guitars are at the forefront and the band provides dynamic shifts, with additional harmonies for good measure. Or the unrelenting sludge of “Beyond The Valley Of Snakes” which would put a smile on Buzz Osborne’s face.

But it isn’t always a full-frontal assault as “Sunday Best” shows, with acoustic guitars allowing Lucas the opportunity to bring out his inner Beatle. The song is pretty dreamy and you won’t care about the disparity because of its sweetness.

I think I’m 100% on board with the resurgence of Local H and the LIFERS, which is the band’s first album in 5 years. It’s hard, it’s explosive, and I’d be surprised if the band didn’t garner a slew of new fans because this right here? Yeah, this is the shit we’ve all been waiting for.| | Instagram