Vista Chino

The debut album from Vista Chino has arrived with minimal fuss, especially considering the pedigree of their key members. A Kyuss reunion of sorts, Peace features the killer line-up of John Garcia, Brant Bjork, Nick Oliveri (since replaced by Corrosion of Conformity’s Mike Dean) and relatively unknown guitarist Bruno Fevery. Following a bitter lawsuit waged by former members Josh Homme and Scott Reeder, the somewhat silly Kyuss Lives! name has been ditched in favour of the spicier Vista Chino moniker. And although their musical ventures have splintered in different directions, Garcia, Bjork and Oliveri have hardly been idle since the demise of their famed band. Garcia has spearheaded the likes of Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano, while Bjork has been prolifically steering his solo juggernaut. Meanwhile, the volatile Oliveri has spent his time jamming with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, the Dwarves and his Mondo Generator project. And with the longtime mates pulling the strings, ably supported by Fevery, the 4-piece display great chemistry from the get-go.

Considering the circumstances surrounding the project, and the well-publicised spat, it’s difficult treating Vista Chino like just another stoner band or offshoot Garcia/Bjork project. This is about as close to a Kyuss reunion as we are likely to get, and in many ways the album sounds like the logical continuation of that classic sound, with a few tweaks here and there. Vista Chino relishes in the task of jamming-out and creating a classic sounding package of scorched desert rock, keeping their Kyuss roots close to heart. And while the songwriting is sometimes guilty of repetition or meandering slightly off course, for the most part Vista Chino delivers an authentic batch of throwback stoner jams that are never less than solid, with occasional glimpses of greatness.

Psychedelic parts and the jam-oriented flavours of the genre pepper the album, yet Vista Chino’s strong focus on the more straightforward aspects of the stoner rock formula keep the songs grounded. The band culls from the classic Kyuss playbook and splice this obvious influence with Unida’s hard rocking directness. Admittedly the initial couple of listens were a bit underwhelming, but slowly the album gets under your skin (in a good way) revealing its addictive qualities as they begin to worm their way into your brain. Subtlety is at play as well, from the slow-burning impact of the album, to the fleeting moments of experimentation, and the hints of expanding their songwriting scope.

Sonically, Peace steps away from the expected wall of fuzzy distortion in favour of a not quite lo-fi, but definitely stripped back production. There’s some crunch in the tones, yet mostly the band settle for a smooth understated fuzz that rings hazily through the well-balanced mix. The bass has an authoritative throb, riding shotgun to Fevery’s solid guitar work, the two instruments interplaying with great effectiveness. Fevery makes a strong impression, despite lacking the mind-bending genius of Homme’s work in Kyuss. While Bjork’s drumming is excellent as always, whether propelling a loose groove or laying down his more inventive patterns. The drums could use some extra punch but the playing can’t be faulted. The charismatic John Garcia sounds as vital as ever, with just enough imperfect cracks etching his weathered voice.

“Dargona Dragona” gives a solid indication of what to expect from the album, bringing fiery fuzz-coated riffage, memorable hooks and a biting vocal from Garcia. The song fits the bill as both a strong opener and first single. Garcia’s vocals are up front in the mix, sounding particularly raw and full of his trademark grit and soulfulness. It may be off-putting for those unfamiliar with his gravelly vocal style, but Garcia fans will find plenty to like here. He pushes his vocals to the limits on the excellent “Sweet Remain”, complimenting the edgy down-tuned grooves and standout lead work from Fevery.

Mini-epic “Planets 1 & 2” is much as the title suggests – a 6.31-minute sprawl that changes tact about halfway through while upholding a coherent structure. Bjork shares lead vocals through the driving hard rock of the first segment before Fevery’s tasty psych-blues solo feeds into part two. Enter some killer jamming as the song changes down a gear into a feverish wig-out, undercut by Garcia’s excellent vocal. The hypnotic groove of “Adara” is undoubtedly one of the album’s strongest cuts, simultaneously feisty and laidback, complete with killer bass and guitar hooks and solidified by an infectious chorus and chilled-out backend.

The hook-fuelled “Barcelonian” rides a breezy desert rock groove, channelling Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu, and featuring yet another memorable vocal performance. 13-minute psychedelic freakout, “Acidize-The Gambling Moose”, is the obligatory stoner rock epic to round out the album. The ambitious tune finds the band taking a more exploratory route through an overblown yet frequently thrilling ride. In the end Peace is not without its flaws, yet for aficionados of fuzzed-out, classic stoner rock served up by seasoned vets, the album delivers in spades and notably grows in stature with each new listen.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
September 17th, 2013


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