By Eleni P. Austin
If someone were to erect a shrine to the founders of the Desert Rock scene, an imposing Mount Rushmore-style monument, the four faces would have to be Mario Lalli, Herb Lineau, Sean Wheeler and Zach Huskey.
Other Desert musicians have received more recognition and achieved more notoriety, but these guys were the originators, the pioneers. A lot of people claim to have attended generator parties. These guys invented them.
Zach Huskey began playing music more than 30 years ago. He cycled through a plethora of bands until his wife Erica learned the bass and they formed Dali’s Llama. They released their debut, Pre-Post Now in 1993.
The band has been going strong for 20 years, releasing 10 albums: Pre-Post Now, Creative Space, Being, The Color Of Apples, Chordata, Sweet Sludge, Raw Is Real, Full On Dunes, Howl Do You Do and Autumn Woods.
To celebrate this milestone, the band is headlining a day-long music festival, “Dali’s Llama’s Wild Rumpus,” featuring more than 10 bands. Also, there will be an informal screening of the rough cut of “Lo-Desert Sound.” (The documentary, from German filmmaker Joerg Steineck is a comprehensive overview of the Desert Rock scene.)
To further commemorate their two decades as a band, Dali’s Llama has released their first vinyl long player, Twenty Years Underground. The album isn’t a broad examination of the Dali’s Llama oeuvre. But it is a lovingly curated eight song LP that represents the last five years of the band.
Twenty Years Underground opens with “Creosote” and “Micro Giant” from the Sweet Sludge album. Thudding percussion and rubbery bass lines connect with thick, tilt-a-whirl guitar riffs on “Creosote.” The song is grind-y Sabbath-esque meditation on the crucial minutiae of plant life.
“Micro-Giant” weds a chunky, ‘70s style backbeat to plucked guitar notes. Zach’s snarling vocals highlight lyrics that decry rampant abuse of power. His indignation is matched by his brittle guitar solo.
The Full On Dunes album is represented with two songs, “Desert Dogs” and “King Platypus.” The former feels appropriately feral. Pliant bass lines collide with a bludgeoning beat. Zach unfurls a series of riffs fat with sustain. Joe Dillon chimes in on guitar and Mario Lalli provides a gritty soliloquy that crests over the maelstrom.
The latter moves at warp speed. A shambolic and playful homage to the duck-billed mammal. The track features Sean Wheeler on backing vocals. Midway through, the rhythm downshifts and Zach delivers an aching, bluesy solo.
Joe Dillon joined the band for the Raw Is Real and Howl Do You Do albums. Raw.. is represented by the title track. Pummeling drums and Zach’s guttural, Cro-Magnon vocals accent the lyrics’ primitive mien. The spiky solo feels suitably savage.
The Howl album was a satisfying detour that paid homage to ‘60s Garage Rock and ‘70s Psychobilly. Co-producer Mikael Jacobson joined the band on keyboards, providing the swirly organ fills on “She’s My Halloween.” The track is a spooky delight, blending Zach’s kaleidoscopic chords with Erica’s bee-stung backing vocals.
The final songs on the album are fresh from Dali’s Llama’s latest release, Autumn Woods. “Bad Dreams” is as foreboding as the title implies. Guitarist Joe Wangler adds a dusty patina to Zach’s sandpaper-y chords. The track is awash with blistering riffs until it suddenly downshifts, the bonecrusher groove supplanted with a roiling rhythm.
The title track from Autumn Woods closes out Twenty Years Underground. Grim guitar chords offer an opening salvo to a song that clocks in at nearly 10 minutes. An earthy paean to the power of nature, Zach and Joe’s riff-age pinballs between mesmerizing repetition and helical, honeyed fills.
Although Dali’s Llama is a desert institution, somehow the band cycles through drummers like Spinal Tap (with less dire results)! Let this paragraph be a tribute to all drummers past and present, who have provided the backbone to their sound, Johnnie Moreno, Ian Dye, George Rubalcava, Robin Clewell, Jeff Howe and currently Craig Brown.
The best thing about Twenty Years Underground, is that you get to listen to this amazing band on vinyl. If your ears are constantly tuned to the tinny convenience of MP3 music, prepare for the mind-blowing experience of really hearing the full, rich sound as the needle hits the groove.
Although this isn’t the lavish, career-spanning box set the band deserves, Twenty Years Underground gives you a tantalizing taste of power and majesty that is Dali’s Llama. It will leave you wanting more.