Yawning Balch – the collaborative project shared between the members of desert rock band Yawning Man and Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch – unleashed a sprawling giant with their debut release. ‘Volume One’ shared three lengthy instrumentals where the musicians absorbed themselves in a stoner friendly, wavering landscape; it’s improvised riffs going deeper into the desert rock world than many had gone in a long time. It was the perfect record for late night listening, and suggested that, if and when a second volume should arrive, Yawning Balch had the potential to be one of the greatest deep psych/stoner bands ever.
‘Volume Two’ is pretty much as you’d expect. This further selection of largely improvised jams – presumably drawn from the same recording sessions as the first – shares deep and hazy vibes throughout, often sounding like Yawning Man’s ambient infused cousin. By under-thinking the arrangements and just losing themselves in the moment, the musicians can be heard completely giving themselves to the music as it emerges, and in doing so, invite the listener to do likewise.
Opting for a typical Yawning Balch sound – in the best possible way – ‘Psychic Aloha’ opens with a ringing guitar, slides that into a busier drum part and then, latterly, settles into a mid tempo arrangement where a solid bass and drum sound push an easy rhythm forward. The basic core melody is standard desert rock fare, but the band expand upon something safe by allowing plenty of room to throw out reverbed lead guitar notes. Throughout the jam, the musical sound is evocative of a man lost in a deep psychedelic haze, further helping to enhance the easy going YB sound – and, as before, it is far more of a sound than a definite groove, but that never stops it being any less brilliant. Bringing in a few synth noises around the five minute mark gives the feeling of something building, and although the extra layers seem in no hurry to go anywhere, the sonic textures work brilliantly, allowing for an extra hint of bluesy guitar to come through…before disappearing again. Eventually, there’s something bigger afoot when a second guitar weaves harder, bluesy lead guitar textures in and out of the slow rhythm, but his slightly more upfront tones never detract from the mellow vibes. From somewhere within the first minute, through to the last gasps of sound twelve minutes later, there’s very little change in the tempo or sound, but there’s something really satisfying about the way the music ambles, and the way drummer Billy Cordell (bass) and Bill Stinson (drums) lock together, never tempted to shake up the solid rhythm once it’s been set. It’s hard to say whether it’s better than any of the music from ‘Volume One’, as its all about feel rather than any instant gratification, but if you’re already a fan, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
A little noisier in places, though by no means any more busy, the eighteen minute ‘A Moment Expanded (A Form Constant)’ gives Stinson more room behind his drum kit, and he uses a lot of the extended playing time to explore almost tribal rhythms. Armed with something a little sharper than a typical desert based jam, the two guitarists take an opportunity to tease with more experimental sounds. Their very different tones at first jostle against each other, often creating blankets of noise rather than obvious melodies. This is good – and will certainly please the hardened deep psych fan – but the arrival of various muted chords used as an extra texture somewhere around the three minute mark makes everything far more interesting. Their bright and almost choppy notes add a much welcome melody, under which Cordell can be heard stretching out his bottom end sound. Eventually, a different rhythm rises when Stinson takes on more of a standard rock approach, but despite a slightly heavier edge, the band doesn’t lose too much of their strong desert vibe, and if anything, it supplies some of the most accessible YB riffs and sounds on this album. Subsiding into something that shares a perfect blend of desert rock, deep psych and dub, the bulk of what follows is a perfect showcase for everyone. Cordell, especially, shines throughout, as he latches onto a hefty groove, but the return of the shimmering guitar tones reminds the listener of the band’s gift for an alternative melody. Ten minutes in, and the guitar effects are increased when a couple of the chords sound as if they’re augmented by a Leslie cabinet, but for those who’ve enjoyed Cordell’s take on a dub sound, these louder guitars certainly won’t detract from yet more great bass work. Driving this blend of deep psych and dub, Cordell fills the rest of the track with ease, and with the muted chords making a belated return, it actually sounds as if everything were meticulously planned…
‘Flesh of The Gods’, by contrast, is a little less adventurous. That’s not to say it isn’t good – it’s actually great – but its mix of warm, desert rock bass work, steady rhythms and ringing guitars sounds like an easy throwback to bits of ‘Volume One’, with the musicians almost coasting on their own good vibes. You’ll still find some great playing here, of course, and the way Gary Arce and Bob Balch weave their understated leads in and out of the groove – this time, there is more of an actual groove – creates some very pleasing psych based noises. If you can get past the fact that it’s destined to live in the shadow of the epic ‘A Moment Expanded’, you’ll certainly enjoy the Yawning Man meets Floyd aesthetic, and definitely find a love for Cordell’s strident bass work. After any feelings that this number might not live up to some of YB’s biggest, by the halfway mark, it’s likely you’ll be absorbed by the slow, hazy riffs, since the guitars mix psych and dream pop in a really cool way, and Cordell’s warmer tones actually share some of the collaboration’s best melodies so far. In a lot of ways, the slightly more direct approach makes this is an ideal track for first time listeners to catch up with the Yawning Balch sound.
This is great. Given the YB desert rock sound is often so loose and alluring, it makes it so easy for the listener to get on board, but also tune in and out at various points along the way. Like its immediate predecessor, this album might not be everyday listening, but it very much lends itself to a late night slot where the listener might be in search of some fine background noise. For what it does – or sometimes doesn’t actually do – you’d be hard pressed to find any desert rock and deep psych sounds that are quite so perfect.