As their name more than implies, Yawning Balch is a musical project that combines the talents of the entire Yawning Man band and Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch. Stoner fans have come to expect great music from both parties, but in their respective acts, neither have managed anything quite as drawn out as the sounds that fill half of this debut from the desert/stoner rock supergroup. Fu Manchu, especially, have often represented the accessible end of the stoner spectrum, so this really gives Balch an ideal landscape on which to stretch out.

Released as a single ahead of the album, ‘Low Pressure Valley’ is a brilliant sprawling instrumental cut. Throughout seven minutes, Balch lays down tinkling clean lead guitar parts against a warm, groove laden bass, whilst a second guitar weaves hazy sonic textures, as if creating a dream-like state. As the main melody continues to gain traction, it becomes very clear that repetition is the key in making it work. Slowly, the clean-ish lead adds extra notes, and the slow bluesy tones lean towards something a little jazzier, though never lose sight of the deceptively simple melody. This serving up of Floydian atmospheres combined with Toundra’s darker vibes is brilliant, with the tune’s haunting atmospheres eventually conjuring a feeling of being lost somewhere in the great outdoors. The contrast between ambient noise and a strong melody presents the very heart of the Yawning Balch sound, giving the track a strong core, even though the album offers some more adventurous sounds elsewhere.

‘Cemetery Glitter’ works around a similarly laid back desert rock groove where the drums set a slow-ish tempo, but if anything, the bass work is far stronger – almost busier in a couple of places. In between weaving a dub like vibe with his bottom end, Billy Cordell drops in higher register notes on occasion, vaguely alluding to something a bit funkier, but never losing sight of the Yawning Balch commitment to a brilliant drawn out and hazy feel. All the while, the rhythm section are locked into their unassuming roles and the twin guitars add various musical textures. Loaded with echo, the lead guitar weaves ambient noises between the bass grooves – adding a space rock influence to the desert sound – whilst a secondary guitar applies a gently fuzzy noise throughout. After six and a half minutes, this jam has barely wavered from its original riff, and yet it hasn’t weakened or become tedious in any way. And the band are only half done: as the second half of the jam moves forward, the band intensifies their approach. The reverb on the guitars is increased, and Balch adds layers of sound which are loose yet full, taking the band further into the realms of one of Hawkwind’s more ambient experiments, before finally applying a little more distortion and dropping one or two bluesy noodles into the mix. As the last notes fade, you get the feeling this could’ve looped for infinity, such is the collaboration’s commitment to a great stoner approach.

For the hardened desert rock fan, these more than enjoyable tunes will ultimately be dwarfed by ‘Volume One’s unashamed show piece. Stretching to twenty two minutes (or one side of vinyl), ‘Dreaming With One Eye Open’ shares all of the best Yawning Balch traits over an extended workout. The basis – as you might expect – sounds rather like one of that band’s more melodic experiments, but with a bigger bass sound and an extra layer of guitars, it soon becomes a little more cinematic. Interestingly, it appears to have no real beginning: at the point where the recording fades in, the band have already hit their stride. Within a minute, a slow rhythm guides a melody through some fine desert traits, and its combo of slightly fuzzy bass and reverbed guitar suggests a genre classic in the making. With the louder of the two guitars latching on to a two note riff, parts of a vaguely rockier melody come across as siren-esque, but there’s not any real urgency. It merely adds a little more busyness to a pleasingly slow groove, where the bass continues to anchor everything, whilst a second guitar teases with bell-like textures – almost like a stoner equivalent of The Fierce & The Dead’s intricate moments delivered by Matt Stevens.

An increased volume at around the six minute mark allows for one of the guitars to switch to a chopping sound, indicating a rise in tension. Then, after a few bars, everything explodes, and Balch launches into a huge bluesy solo where his overdriven notes flow in and out of the groove, with echoes of one of the Mad Season instrumentals from the mid 90s. Drummer Bill Stinson is there in the back; his drums set the tempo immediately, and in ten minutes have barely shifted from the original remit, and his laid back approach is just perfect for the job in hand. By eleven minutes in, Balch and second guitarist Gary Arce are waist deep in echoing lead sounds, really driving home the spacious desert feel, and even as Cordell begins to apply a little more distortion to his bass, you still get the feeling that things are just warming up. Naturally, Yawning Balch are in no hurry to go anywhere, and seem more than happy wallowing in this repetitious melody for another three minutes, at which point, the original groove starts to fall away very slowly. In its place, an increase of spacey keyboard effects and a fatter bassline begin to emerge, whilst Bob loses himself in an even bluesier lead sound, which he will weave until the band ultimately decides their work is done, some seven or eight minutes later. Closing with a much heavier guitar riff and a more obvious nod to parts of the respective musicians’ “day jobs”, ‘Dreaming With One Eye Open’ covers all of the vital desert rock tropes and moods. Despite working its mojo very slowly indeed, and never offering the listener any dramatic changes, it’s a piece that really works; it’s the sound of seasoned stoner musicians feeding brilliantly off each other, creating a massively organic musical beast that’s unlikely to get old.

Admittedly, as epic as parts of this debut may be, a twenty two minute jam coupled with a couple of accessible pieces never reaches the indulgent heights of, say, Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’ with it’s 63 minute title cut. Nor does it attempt to out-do Saint Karloff’s ‘Interstellar Voodoo’ release presenting just the singular 40 minute jam, but in desert rock terms, it’s still pretty bloody huge. With a perfect grasp of the hazy desert jam and a few (very subtle) extra twists along the way, its three tracks are certain to bend the minds of genre fans everywhere.

August 2023