JUICE OH YEAH - Juice Oh Yeah
Whenever someone tries to get me to review an album performed solely on bass guitar and drums, I am sceptical. Usually that kind of music feels just too dry to me, and even when itís well done, I always end up feeling as if something were missing in the cocktail. My anxiety was big before I decided to finally listen to Juice Oh Yeah, one such duo coming from Saint Petersburg in Russia. On their debut album back in 2013, they still played some kind of rather raw stoner garage rock, which is ok by me but not what really gets me going.
Fast forward seven years to the present, and the guys are back with their self-titled second longplayer. The album contains only five tracks, but still makes it to nearly forty minutes. The cover artwork shows an Oriental hat lying on a Persian carpet, with the bandís logo written on the hat. Looks really lo-fi and is another good lesson in not judging a book by its cover... because the music is truly something else in the case of Juice Of Yeah!
The opener Rels is at a little over four minutes the shortest track on the album, and if you didnít know any better, youíd believe youíre listening to Queens Of The Stone Age on a very good day. Slava Lobanovís drums are pounding, but itís the bass guitar that is out of this world. Boris Shulman plays a fretless bass guitar, and distorts it to such a degree that you think youíre listening to an army of guitars. Another unexpected highlight are the melodic vocals that remind me here of the Beatles and Motorpsycho. The following Dnaa, at six and a half minutes the second shortest track, is a huge surprise by showing the two musicians in a very restrained way. The bass guitar and drums are first joined by a harp chord, and then later by an Asian sounding string instrument. Then, all of a sudden, the music falls into the background, to be replaced by high multi-layered vocals that might remind you of American indie folk bands, or early Seventies folk prog bands, except that the intonation is purely Russian. The bass guitar returns in all its distorted glory to transform this track into some kind of Beach Boys on an enjoyable hellish acid trip, complete with a brass section adding a swinging Sixties atmosphere. So there is so much happening on this song alone, but the duo never loses track of its majestic songwriting.
At twelve minutes, Mane is the albumís magnum opus, starting quietly in an ambient way, then turns into a Middle East sounding folk section, with the high vocals joining a little later, and then once again bursting into crescendo of heavy bass riffs mixed with trumpets or trombones, and thatís only the first half of the song. The second half starts with drones, then turns into apocalyptic doom metal with an organ wobbling in the background and the bass guitar even adding a solo. How crazy can you get? The final two songs are eight minutes each, and although the bandís modus operandi is mostly the same on every song, itís the stellar songwriting and the mass of unexpected twists and turns that makes their music so enjoyable. Poleno for instance also has a quiet opening part, performed in 3/4 time with even a bit of piano, before the vocals start soaring in a more dramatic part, and Vnyz ends the album in a spectacular way with a trumpet part that recalls me Johnny Cashís Ring Of Fire and vocal parts that are not from this Earth.
As influences go, Juice Of Yeah are namedropping Earth, Morphine and King Crimson. In some ways this makes sense. Take the monolithic heaviness of Earth, combine it with the guitar-less sound of Morphine, and add the progressive adventurism of King Crimson, and you are already halfway there. Because Juice Of Yeah are so much more in this year 2020. Their refined and improved sound might be labelled some kind of avant prog doom metal that combines the brainy thought experiments of prog rock with the sludgy heaviness of extreme doom metal in quite a unique and highly listenable way.