Monday, 23 September 2013

Vista Chino - Peace (album review)

We in the stoner rock and doom metal community have had it really good for the past couple years.  However, 2013 has not been without its share of difficulties from death to polemics.  Probably the most divisive debates of the year have been over the new Black Sabbath and Orchid albums.  Largely, supporters of one band don't seem to support the other and it's become a regular mods versus rockers type of atmosphere (kidding).  There's been no blood shed over this paradigm, none that I know of at least, and most of us can still be buds and clank beer bottles after the debate is over and move on with our lives until the next great debate swings along.  And then there was Vista Chino.  It's no surprise really that folks will have strong opinions about this band.  Vista Chino is after all the latter day equivalent, if not remnant of Kyuss who, after Black Sabbath, are probably the most seminal influence on the whole lot of this broad underground genre.  Some people don't like Vista Chino.  The reasons for this are numerous and somewhat obvious if not apparent in the music.  If you've ever heard former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme wax eloquent on his former band you'll understand the philosophy that he believed that they all shared at the time the band was happening.  That it was in and of the moment, a rejection of all things unoriginal and something never to be revisited or duplicated.  But as if often the case in life, the man was speaking for himself and not for the group as he believed he was.  John Garcia and Brant Bjork, Kyuss vocalist and drummer respectively, decided that they were getting the old band back together.  Why?  Maybe it's a mid-life crisis thing. Who knows and does it really matter why anyway?  They began touring as Kyuss Lives! which gave birth to one of the uglier situations of the year prior when a lawsuit filed by Homme and former Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder prohibited the band from recording under the name and prompting the change to Vista Chino.  Had Homme been involved in what ultimately became the Vista Chino project, it's almost certain that there would be little to no debate over its musical merits.  As it stands, Homme's place in the line-up has been filled by Belgian guitarist Bruno Fevery (Arsenal), an unenviable task if there ever was one.  It's a bit like asking a guy off the street to replace Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath or Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin.  Absolutely unheard of!  Sacrilege!!

But the legal prompting of the name-change may have been the best thing for this band and taking it as its own thing, the music, and yes the guitar parts as well, are actually quite outstanding even within a genre absolutely overflowing with talented and unique musicians who have picked up where Kyuss left off.  WIth a situation like that you'd think there'd be no room left for a band such as this left to explore, but you'd be wrong.

First off, new guy Fevery does his best Homme interpretation and actually pulls it off with a great measure of skill.  Instead of taking the feel of a Homme Kyuss riff and going from there, Fevery cranks the fuzz up to 11 and feels his way around, much in the same way as his predecessor, but he does it in his own way.  This should be fairly obvious.  "Of course he did it in his own way, how could he not do it in his own way?"  Well, I have, and I'm sure that you have, heard too many guitarists who try to sound like Homme.  Fevery doesn't try to sound like Homme.  What comes across is the sense that the new buck uses some of the same starting points while setting riff to tape.  It's a feel thing, not an intellectual thing.

Garcia, Bjork and (now departed) bassist Nick Oliveri are in fine, latter-day form.  It's interesting that Garcia sings in his clean Unida style rather than the gruff growl remembered from 'Blues for the Red Sun', which part of me was hoping he'd get back to, even though that was what initially turned me off of the band when I first heard the album some 15 years ago.  At the time, I thought Garcia's vocals detracted from the band and made the band sound amateurish.  Of course, once the taste was acquired, it certainly added to the atmosphere the band was always drowning in.  I was a stupid kid, what did I know?

As mentioned earlier, fans of the original band seem to be split on this album, but for those without a rooting interest or who liked Kyuss but wasn't married to them, ought to be pleasantly surprised by the potency of Vista Chino.  Many a sonic dreamscape is explored and there's a definite and familiar looseness to the development of the songs, sort of like taking all the rigid material out of the jelly of the songs so that they flow from one idea to the next like blobs while maintaining a loose outline.  The thing is most of the ideas which flow by are terrific, if not fully developed and mostly brand new.  Those same casual fans will probably groove along to "As You Wish", "Planets 1 & 2", "Dargona Dragona" and the first bit of the 13 minute album closing epic "Acidize ... The Gambling Moose" or actually, all of it.  Kyuss fan or not, these tracks should put a smile on your face, they are full of fire, fuzz and fury.  Many of these songs have a "Green Machine" feel to them, at least at first, but soon spin off into their own freaking orbits, man.

I would rate 'Peace' as one of the best "big-name" releases of the past couple years, it's more of a debut than a comeback and if you keep that in mind, the album should speak to you and tickle your fuzzy bone.

The band recently blew through my town and there's still time to catch them on the last leg of their North American tour.  They're going to be in Quebec City, Ottawa, New York, Philadelphia and Columbus over the next week, check the band's facebook for details.

Highlights include: "Dargona Dragona" and "As You Wish"

Rating: 4.5/5

1). Good Morning Wasteland (0:59)
2). Dargona Dragona (4:48)
3). Sweet Remain (3:11)
4). As You Wish (5:01)
5). Planets 1&2 (6:32)
6). Adara (4:40)
7). Mas Vino (1:26)
8). Dark and Lovely (6:15)
9). Barcelonian (3:31)
10). Acidize ... the Gambling Moose (13:01)
Bonus Tracks
11). Carnation (4:14)
12). Sunlight at Midnight (3:49)
Total Run Time: 57:22

John Garcia (Vocals)
Brant Bjork (Drums)
Bruno Fevery (Guitar)
Nick Oliveri (Bass on the 'Peace' record)

From: Palm Desert, California

Genre: Stoner, Psychedelic, Hard Rock

Reminds me of: What else?

Release Date: September 3, 2013

Vista Chino on facebook


OR HERE (digital)

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