For those who’ve not been paying attention, fuzz rock troupe Sun Voyager have been lurking on the Brooklyn underground scene since 2012. After a few enjoyable EPs, ‘Seismic Vibes’ – their first full length LP – really capitalises on their previous musical ideas, presenting a world of haze and stoner based riffs with not only more confidence but also a better production value than they’ve ever had. Those who think “better production” could also mean more commercial should fear not, though, since everything that was great about these mighty Sun lords before remains just as great; it’s just that this time around, the material has more warmth and depth. It’s interesting they’ve not taken advantage of the longer playing time and experimented with longer songs, but just one or two listens to this album should be enough to explain why: there’s definitely something about this material that is more effective in short bursts.
‘Trip’ opens the album with a simple but classic riff and more than a smidgeon of influence from Monster Magnet. As the first verse grabs a hold, there’s a sense that Sun Voyager are more accomplished than ever before, but also that some of that appeal now comes from not wanting to over-complicate the job in hand. Beneath a fairly repetitive riff, there’s a selection of spacy synths and an echoey vocal, as if the band were playing in an empty room. The end results will sound more than familiar to anyone who’s spent time listening to heavy psych bands previously, but that doesn’t make this offering less enjoyable. A few listens actually uncovers more interest than first appears; Kyle Beach’s drum fills, in particular, are superb – heavy enough to go head to head with the riffs, but with enough flair to keep a feeling of momentum. This technique works even better on ‘Open Road’, a bass lead tune that sets up a fast, circular riff that sounds like ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’ era Hawkwind via ‘Hallogallo’ by NEU! bolstered with the steroids of Monster Magnet. The sheer repetition of the riff is key, but the repeated hook of “it’s the open road…aaah!” is also something that’ll surely make an impression. In fact, the only time this number really deviates from its ‘Hallogallo’-ness is to allow guitarist Carlos enough time to indulge in a little fuzzed up blues. From very first listen, this isn’t just the album’s stand out track but also one of the best Sun Voyager jams to date.
Some of the more obvious stoner moods are brushed aside for the boisterous ‘Caves of Steel’, a number that bravely takes on the anger of The Monks and dresses it with deeper bass and a shamelessly old fashioned organ sound. As before, the vocals are buried deep in the mix, but it’s the punch and groove that makes everything work and Francisco’s frantic guitar buzz is fantastic. The real star during these ferocious three minutes, though, is Beach once again. In a performance that’s a world away from ‘Open Road’, he smashes his kit into oblivion; he’s a player with a huge dynamic range. During ‘Harebrained’, too, the garage rock wastes no time in being even more raucous with the main riffs and yelled vocals almost taking on a punky air. It still pumps with the heart of heavy psych of course, but Sun Voyager’s willingness to mix styles means this is perhaps closer to the energies of Hawkwind’s ‘Quark Strangeness and Charm’ than the more critically lauded ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’. The track’s unwillingness to deviate too far from its initial riff shares an ideal with ‘Open Road’, but that’s as far as any similarities go. It isn’t necessary the album’s best track and yet the distorted and uncompromising vocals combined with crashing drums and repetitive fuzz rock riffs makes it oddly captivating. In a slight change of mood, the guitars eventually subside and a neo-gothic organ and vocals rise to labour the more retro parts of Sun Voyager’s cornucopia of psych noise. File under “not essential, but fun”.
Drawing deeper into the blues, ‘Stellar Winds’ works some mean pychedelia, with a slightly more spacious arrangement that allows most of the band time in the spotlight: the guitars lurch with a distorted intent, eventually reaching their zenith with a heavy and simple instrumental break; the bass occasionally rises with some fuzzy lead and a world of hammered keyboards really add to the blanket of noise that’s unfolding. Again, the lyrics get lost somewhere within the mix, but since Sun Voyager excel when it comes to a riff – and this is one of their best – that really doesn’t matter. Reaching deeper into doom, ‘Too Much’ starts with an obvious Black Sabbath homage – something improved by the addition of organ and the buzzing of amps – before a curly, distorted vocal and serious bass take the reins for a slow, lurching blues workout. Where space would allow the main riff to breath, Sun Voyager stoke up the feeling of unease with extra organ and distortion, something that makes the track seem like so much more than standard blues rock fare. The vocal, especially, has a sinister edge and the eventual collision between that organ and a slightly cleaner guitar gives the track a great centre piece, all without the band ever feeling it necessary to launch into extended and complex solos. ‘Psychic Lords’, meanwhile, takes the blues root and slows it even more, allowing for some heavily treated guitar lines to take centre stage. By the time what passes as a chorus rolls into the frame, the usual heavy, distorted psyche takes over…and while there are a couple of moments of interest – mostly in the way part of the riff is augmented by a spooky clanging sound – this track doesn’t quite work. In fact, the slow pace makes this feel like a very (very) long three minutes and whilst that’s surely the band’s intention, it’s a definite skipper after one or two spins.
Providing the most obvious link with Sun Voyager’s past, the album closes with a re-recorded version of their signature piece ‘God Is Dead’, which originally appeared on the ‘Lazy Daze’ EP in 2015. Not only does this reworked version have a greater depth and a much stronger vocal take, the band have taken the opportunity to work in some of their improved musical skills. Now clocking in at almost twice its predecessor’s length, this bigger and better ‘God Is Dead’ works itself towards a fast, heavy Fu Manchu inspired climax where the riffs come at speed and the retro elements are embellished further by some great keyboard swirls. They’ve not changed the underlying Sabbath-ish mood, though, so if you liked the number previously, there’s now a chance you’ll consider it a lo-fi masterpiece. …And if you’re one of those people whom are lucky enough to be hearing it for the first time in this complete and unexpurgated form, it’ll surely become an album highlight.
The earlier Sun Voyager EPs often showed off a talented band with a lot of potential, but ‘Seismic Vibes’ exceeds expectations. Sure, it’s got a dense sound and there isn’t always a lot of separation between the instruments, but in a land where the riff rules, Sun Voyager are crown princes of their own self-created fug. In fact, even with the misfire of ‘Psychic Lords’, this album comes highly recommended. In terms of stoner metal-meets-garage rock-meets-deep psych, things don’t come much better.
Thanks for the informative review. It’s an Incredible blend of fuzz and new wave/synth. Not what I was expecting at all.
Glad we could introduce you to them! It’s a superb record, it really is.