Usually when drummers swap the stool for the spotlight, the results are frightening—Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl, and Tommy Lee are exceptions. Fu Manchu’s Brant Bjork (no umlaut!) might be another one. He debuted in 1999 with Jalamanta, a quiet and buttery one-man excursion into dark funk territory; think the instrumental fills on Super Fly. Jalamanta snuck past critics and fair-weather Fu fans alike, and Sounds of Liberation—by Bjork’s new power trio, Ché—is less surprising. But Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez and Unida bassist Dave Dinsmore still thicken and stiffen Bjork’s pimpy groove with priapic desert-metal heft.
The result hits a spot somewhere between the Flock of Seagulls-with-big-guitars moodiness of Queens of the Stone Age’s first and best album (which Hernandez played on) and Fu Manchu’s hard-on for “We’re an American Band” and profound penchant for the really, really stoned. “We’re going to rock on water, and we’re going to tell no lies,” Bjork (who’s just singing and guitaring this time) lies in “Hyrdaulicks.” Moses jamming out on the Red Sea? Or maybe Ché is a high-powered bar mitzvah band gigging on a chartered ferry equipped with a polygraph machine? Bjork’s surly vocals are baked with r&b grit—he could be Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott smokin’ a fatty and sportin’ checkered Vans slip-ons.
“Adelante” and “The Knife” have the lonely long-journey hypnotics of QOTSA at their most “I Ran”-ish: tight and rugged dune-buggy riffs scaling warm, soft hills of rhythm. The wordless “Pray for Rock,” once it gets rolling, worships at the Cult’s Sonic Temple, its springy and melodic guitar figure turned loose over anthemic chording. Not quite the junked-out soul of Jalamanta, perhaps. But purty good strut-your-stuff stuff for the action-kid set regardless.