King Llama 2016
When ox is no bull and L.A. is no Emerald City: SoCal ensemble play tricks with the listener’s mind taking them from funk to fusion and far away.
There are three lads in this band from La La Land, but when they charge, with a petal-to-the-metal contrast, into “Call Me Elmo” – and it ain’t no saint that the piece’s title alludes to – a singular, united front and slightly gonzoid energy emerge for one to behold. For all the humor on display, though, the trio’s debut album has quite a serious intent in claiming their stake at a rather crowded heavy fusion scene. It may not require guts to stand out there, and opener “Blobo” wouldn’t go a long way to assert that the players are omega males of the animal kingdom by approaching a funk stream cautiously, even lazily, which can’t help but take the listener by surprise once the flow is intensified and transformed into a sort of flamenco.
A point of no return, the idiosyncratic tangle of Ryan Tanner Bailey’s guitar and Nico Staub’s bass – alternately tight and loose as Luis Briones’ drums dictate – renders the instrumental action insular, if arresting; more so, the muscular meandering behind “Mighty Ox” doesn’t prevent its bluesy strains from becoming romantic. There might be a deliberately cinematic level to it, and “Just The Tip” is indeed possessed with a spaghetti western type of drama, up to ghostly wordless vocals, while the translucent “Sensei” is peeling off prog-fixed layers into stereo. Yet whereas political matters explain the rage of “Cap’n Mustard Hair” and sexual connotations feed the spank of “Hershey Highway” – the album’s rock bottom – the billowing, and sometimes bellowing, chords fit finely into the context of ciggies-referencing “Stogies n’ Juice” or “Smoking In Ergenzingen” to reflect the cuts’ changing of mood.
This constant shift and unpredictability are what keeps one’s ears pricked for the record’s duration. And that’s just the beginning of the band’s journey.