Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Welcome to Sky Valley

Released 1994 on Elektra
Reviewed by kwd, 10/04/2007ce


Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop

Space Cadet
Demon Cleaner

Conan Troutman

Kyuss were barely out of their teens when their rumbling sonic formations thrust them towards the top of a rock pile known, for better or worse, as stoner. Monster Magnet were another similarly tagged band, but where Dave Wyndorf’s New Jersey crew fizzed around at the speed end of the alt-rock spectrum, mixing gonzo sex-and-drugs refs with sharp-witted urban savvy (check ‘Spine of God’, ‘Tab’ and ‘Superjudge’ for tongue-in-cheek satanic drug thing evidence), Kyuss concocted a thicker, fatter, weightier brew with very definite geological roots – the California desert.

Holed up in Palm Desert, around 120 culture-preserving miles east of LA’s neon hubbub, the young Kyuss cut their gnashers cranking out huge dust-laden riffs at the generator parties that formed the hub of a localised desert scene. Much like an al fresco punk-stoner-rock cousin to the UK’s warehouse parties, complete with authority-evading antics, bands/partygoers would drive miles out into the middle of nowhere, hook up the generators and just JAM. Surrounded by nothing but space and rocks, bands like Kyuss, Fatso Jetson and Unsound would shatter the vast silent night while battling sand-blasting wind and bonfire heat…

….so, given that’s where Kyuss spent their formative years, is it any wonder they wound up sounding EXACTLY like their surroundings – dry, free and big as fuck?

‘course not. Second album ‘Blues for the Red Sun’ was when uber knob-twiddler/desert stalwart/Masters of Reality mainman Chris Goss first got behind the Kyuss production desk, and that record was the first to truly capture their downtuned psyche blues rifferama. Third album ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’ saw Kyuss unfurl the Red Sun blueprint further, revealing a set of sunbaked grooves that absolutely nailed their bone-dry sound and free-flowing attitude - and nowhere moreso than the opening track, ‘Gardenia’.

Bulldozing out the speakers with a woozy, hypnotic throb and that ground-shaking bass-driven rumble – expertly trapped on tape (again) by the aforementioned Mr Goss – ‘Gardenia’ positively SWAGGERS with head-nodding rhythm, killer riffs and cavernous percussion. Laid-back yet full-on, there’s an early Motorhead spirit lurking about… not the high velocity, lawn-killing rocka rolla Motorspirit but the smoky mid-tempo stuff that swings low off the Lem bass and crawls the kerb on cruise control. Check the first half of ‘Limb from Limb’ from ‘Overkill’ or exhume ‘Lawman’ from ’Bomber’ and you’ll see what I mean – it’s THAT essence, that swinging something, that drives Gardenia, albeit tuned low and amplified high. Chuck in a tight-but-loose spacefunk ‘n wah wah interlude near the track’s end and you’ve got the Kyuss manifesto right there in those first 6 minutes.

Second track ‘Asteroid’ is the heaviest on Sky Valley, a slow-to-fast instrumental bust-up in the Sludge Thrash cosmos, while ‘Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop’ keeps it quick before melting into the kind of laid-back jam that Clutch now do so well. ‘Space Cadet’ basks in an acoustic sunset shimmer that’s 2-beers mellow on a summer’s night, ‘Demon Cleaner’ is fully-amped yet trippy and detached, ‘Whitewater’ fades in on (yet another) cool-as-you-like riff… need I go on? Fast stuff, slow stuff, dense stuff, spacious stuff, all shot through with desert DNA and Josh Homme’s engulfing, womb-like guitar sound – a landmark record from one of THE bands of the 1990s who did it their way. Imploding after album number 4 – ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town’ – Kyuss ensured they dissolved on their terms and no-one else's.

Thankfully, their timeless musical legacy has done anything but dissolve so if bass-heavy groovin’ hard rock is your thing, you're exploring the right space. Welcome to Kyuss territory - and Welcome to Sky Valley.

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