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Reviews

Brant Bjork and the Operators Self-Titled

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Tuesday, April 30, 2002 @ 10:00 AM


(The Music Cartel)

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This self-titled sophomore solo effort from Fu Manchu/Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age cohort Brant Bjork is a surprisingly strong and diverse effort and is one of the rare instances where a drummer has made an album where the drums take a backseat to the material. Amazingly, this isn’t a “drummers” album, full of percussion break and roto-tom solos. Nope, this is a songwriters affair, full of twists and turns, quirky melodies and self-indulgent passages.

Though the credits read “Brant Bjork and the Operators” this is basically one-man show, with Bjork singing, and playing guitar, bass and drums, only sometimes joined by friends for the occasional lead guitar solo or backing vocal. Veering from new wave to metal to rock, Bjork covers a lot of ground here yet keeps things simple and solid. Vocally, Bjork is reminiscent of Satchel/Pigeonhead/Brad singer Shawn Smith or even Rick Ocasek of the Cars, a smooth, limited range, but totally effective. Lyrically he’s certainly not giving Dylan a run for his money, but he’s not trying to either. Bjork seems completely fine revealing in teen fantasies and slacker bong-hit poems. On a Tool album it would some lame, like he didn’t even try, but at this party it fits right in.

The material is all quite strong, built around simple guitar or keyboard riffs and very pop based. Bjork mixes metal riffing with new wavey hooks and smokey funk with ease, sounding both retro and fresh at the same time. A prime example of this fusion of styles can be heard on the opener, “Hinda 65,” which combines some Sweet-style synth with a Duran Duran guitar line and lyrics about teen cruising. The songs coasts along quite hypnotically, constantly feeling like it’s going to break out of it’s haze and explode, keeping you on the edge of your seat the whole time. “Smarty Pants” injects some funk groove to the party, complete with some Prince style falsetto vocals. “My Ghettoblaster” sounds kinda like Fu Manchu with less guitar and more organ. These three songs get this album off to a real promising start, probably the best triple threat I’ve heard at the front of a record in a looooong time…

Then Bjork tends to stray a bit, indulging in jams and prog-rock workouts. The instrumental “Electric Lalli Land” features some pretty proggy sounding riffs and cool backwards guitar and while it’s pretty impressive chops-wise, it’s not exactly the most memorable tunes here. The same can be said for the jagged, dissonant “From The Ground Up” -- interesting if you’re a drummer or guitarist, but not for the average listener. “Cheap Wine” is n fun, upbeat little number that peps right along into the mellow and moody instrumental “Cocoa Butter.” None of it is bad, but not nearly as compelling as the first third of the effort.

By this time some steam has been lost, but momentum is quickly gained as “Joey’s Radio” comes blasting in and returns us to that heavy yet laid back vibe. “Captain Lovestar” opens with a tricky little guitar riff intro before kicking into a sexy rocker that sounds kinda like Masters of Reality covering Bad Company. The pimp rap in the middle is priceless. An electric piano driven instrumental reprise of “Hinda 65” closes the album and eases the listener down from their buzz in just the right way. This is how you wanna end a cool trip like this, with a joint in your hand and some smoky mood music in the background. Is there anything left in that bottle…?

No, this ain’t a perfect album by any means and probably coulda used a coupla more really strong tunes or a coupla less instrumentals, but I’ll be dammed if Bjork ain’t the best drummer turned songwriter since Mr. Grohl himself and I expect we’ll be hearing much more from this cat and his psychedelic furry friends. I know this might all sound kinda gay and ‘80s (what with all the Duran Duran and Prince comparisons) but I swear it works and rocks hard. It’s heavy in the right places, funny as hell, and just oozes with charm. Fans of Fu Manchu and Queens will dig this, fan of Tenacious D and Foo Fighter will “get it,” and fans of Brad and Satchel will LOVE it. This is the kinda music you wanna chill out to, drink wine to, and make love to… the ladies understand…

***1/2


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