YAWNING SONS - Sky Island
Collaborative albums more often than not end up disappointing the listener. I quote a fitting example with Metallica teaming up with Lou Reed, hardly exciting any of the twoís fanbases. But sometimes there is an exception to the rule, like when American desert rock band Yawning Man is meeting British post rock band Sons Of Alpha Centauri, naming the endeavour Yawning Sons.
A first album came out in 2009 to good reviews, and then the musicians went back to their respective bands, having us wait twelve years for the successor Sky Island to finally see the light of day. The strangest thing about Yawning Sons is that most of the songs have vocals, despite Yawning Man and Sons Of Alpha Centauri being instrumental bands. While the musicians do what they can best, play the music, vocal duties are shared by Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson), Scott Reeder (Kyuss, The Obsessed) and Wendy Raw Fowler (cameos with Queens Of The Stone Age, Mark Lanegan, Eagles Of Death Metal...).
If you expect purebred stoner rock with this kind of line-up, you will be mistaken. Instead the collective comes up with an intriguing hybrid of psychedelia, shoegaze indie rock and, of course, some elements of desert and post rock. The opener Adrenaline Rush is that kind of song that could have been a smash hit in the early nineties. It is carried by a strong bass line, the vocals are robotically monotonous, the guitar is sizzling in the background. The verse comes feels cold and distanced, making the rousing chorus a great counterpart. It all feels as if British shoegaze bands were stranded in a Southwestern desert. Lost In The Valley is at nearly eight minutes on the albumís longest tracks. Itís a languid quasi ballad performed at a slow pace, with mesmerising vocals and yet another catchy chorus. Cigarette Footsteps is a similar track, maybe less American and more British, with conjuring vocals and a decidedly psychedelic atmosphere. The first half ends with the instrumental Passport Beyond The Tides. I have to confess that itís my least favourite track: the cheesy synth carpets remind me of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, and while that may have felt deep way back when, it does feel a little dated today.
The second half starts with Shadows And Echoes, featuring Wendy Raw Fowler on vocals. This is another song that could have been a hit three decades ago, when bands like Lush and Curve were rotating on MTVís 120 Minutes. Digital Spirit is a short psychedelic extravaganza that sends a smile on your face. On Gravity Underwater Yawning Sons do what they do best: playing a catchy pop song in slow motion. Especially the "beep beep" vocals at the end are at odds with the sun-drenched mood of the song, and itís those juxtapositions which make Sky Island so worthwhile. The album ends with the seven-minute instrumental Limitless Artifact, which is a lot better than the other instrumental on the album.
It doesnít happen often with collaborative albums that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Both Yawning Man and Sons Of Alpha Centauri are bands with undeniable merits, but then they come together as Yawning Sons, they are actually quite amazing. The vocals help of course to make it more accessible, but also the musical orientation manages to steer into a different direction from its parent bands, showing how far these guys can go. Letís only hope that their third album wonít take another dozen years to materialise.