The ‘K’ Word…It is unavoidable I’m afraid…
Kyuss were band whose influence and legacy seemed to become exponentially more profound and apparent in the post mortem.
I am not sure that enough people (myself included) realised the extent of what was happening when they released their fuzzed up, tuned down rock stylings on the world.
They were an anomaly, I remember them as being hard to categorise in a time when such tags seemed more important to me. Which explains why terms like “desert rock” & “stoner rock” were coined in an attempt to compartmentalise a sound that was not quite heavy metal, was not quite rock, but sure was as cool as all get out.
Vista Chino is not Kyuss (mostly for legal reasons) but there is enough Kyuss present in their personnel and sound for them trade off the aforementioned legacy. But in doing so they potentially risked mortally wounding a mythical monster, and as a huge Kyuss fan I was worried that may turn out to be the case.
But I need not have been concerned.
This album is good. Very good.
The ominous strains of harmonic feedback that make up the opening minute of the Vista Chino era are aptly titled “Good Morning Wasteland”. It is the musical equivalent of hearing a V8 engine warming up, revving slowly in a passive aggressive display of the power it possesses under the hood.
Soon though, the first actual song ‘Dargona Dragona’ kicks in and that is the metaphorical accelerator pedal being dropped and the brake being lifted, as the full grunt of this V8 is unleashed.
It is immediately obvious what the listener is in for; the sound and feeling are comfortingly familiar but excitingly fresh. That guitar tone, those cool-as-the-shade-of-a-cactus riffs, the rawness of the rhythm section tying it all together, it is all present here in spades.
The opening words to slither from the smoke soaked vocals of john Garcia are “I know what you are”.
Well it is instantly and abundantly clear that I know what Vista Chino are, and I know where they have been too. As if to ease forwards by looking backwards the opening two tracks sound like they could be lifted straight off ‘Blues For The Red Sun’
It’s the third song – ‘As You Win’ that first really changes things up a bit, a disjointed beat is washed over with reverb as Garcia’s voice weaves around in the noise like a vulture in the clear dessert sky.
In an album of such consistent musical theme it these small departures that make sure this not an exercise in derivative reminiscing but clearly is a step up and a leap forwards. So many of the hallmarks of a sound that some of these guys were instrumental in spawning are here – the occasional unexpected ninety-degree turn mid-song being one of my personal favourites to feature. But this LP rarely sounds likes Kyuss redux and that is really no mean feat.
For me an early standout is song number six – ‘Adara’ with its smooth groove and awesome riff. It is an unbelievably catchy song with a lovely heading-nodding vibe and sweet as syrup change in the middle section. I could listen to this song on repeat all day, preferably as I drive the open road with my windows down to let in a summer breeze.
The whole album bumps and burns along with pulsing yet restrained power, managing to evoke images of wide open expanses of endless desert and memories of small smoke filled rooms all at once.
There are just enough tricks and treats used to vary the songs from each other and from the elephant in the room. The vocals of Garcia are privy to a few previously little seen approaches here – the layered voices under layers of effects on ‘Dark & Lovely’ and the cleaner approach he occasionally employs help to keep things from getting stale. Sometimes his gravely drawl is prominent in the mix and other times it is kept to the back where it stalks the instrumental awesomeness with gentle fervour.
Some moments grab me immediately and others wait a few listens before revealing their best traits. The electric ambience created by the buzz of the bass bringing in the epic final track ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’ fills my bodily cavity with warmth before it goes on to becomes a wigged out yet gentle journey into anywhere Serving as another example of an alteration to the formula that mixes the flavour up enough to satisfy even the most demanding palette.
The guitar playing simply fantastic throughout, the tweaked tones of Bruno Fevery keeping things interesting, his smooth style fitting beautifully in the mix whilst the engine continues to chug ceaselessly in the form of friendly neighbourhood nutter Nick Oliveri on bass. And the renowned skills of Brant Bjork displayed throughout show why his services are always in such demand, his performance on drums is flawless.
The production is perfect – raw and restrained yet lush and textured. When you have a sound as awesome as this and players this capable then the last thing it needs is to be produced in oblivion. This a release by seasoned campaigners who have a lot prove for people with nothing to prove, there had to have been tangible pressure on them to not fuck this up. The good news is they have not only avoided tarnishing anything from the past they in fact excelled in tipping their hats to the imprint of the previous incarnation whilst pointing their horses toward a exciting new future.
Sometimes a divorce really does benefit all involved and Vista Chino may not have walked away with the house but seem intent on building a new temple from this impressive foundation. I get the feeling if and when I next talk about a Vista Chino release I won’t be needing anywhere near as much of ‘the k word’.
After seeing them live (still then Kyuss Lives) earlier this year in an astounding and standout set out at Soundwave I hope they return to my neck of the woods soon as I will be front and centre again, dancing a dessert jig and lapping it up all the loveliness.
The names may have been changed to protect the innocent but there is no doubt Kyuss Lives.
Just don’t call it a comeback. This deserves more than that (plus you may end up of on the pointy end of Mr Homme’s legal wrath)
Three Margaritas & a big ol’ spliff out five.