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Music Review: Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley

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The third album from Kyuss — released in 1994 — is in many eyes a masterpiece. The band’s confidence in the album and their opposition to mainstream ideas of what an album should be is reflected in how they tracked the disc. The album’s 11 songs are bunched up on four tracks so that listeners are forced to listen through an entire block of music as opposed to skipping from track to track. Most refer to the album as Welcome to Sky Valley thanks to the cover art’s road sign with the aforementioned phrase, but the band has insisted the album was actually self-titled.

Just the same as the album title, what to call the band’s genre is in question. To their fans in the early ‘90s, they were Stoner Rock. To themselves and their peers, they were Desert Rock. A decent explanation of the Kyuss sound might be fuzzed-out psychedelic rock. They have the song exploration tendencies of a band like Pink Floyd, but they also have the bass-heavy riff rock of bands such as Black Sabbath. This description, however, still does not do the band justice. They own a sound that should just be heard instead of talked about.

Formed in the late 1980s in Palm Desert, California, Kyuss was composed of four friends in high school who continued making a mark on music even after their band’s dissolution in 1995. Without a doubt, the most notable of the band’s former members is Joshua Homme. Going on to rake in much success with Queens of the Stone Age, it seems every undertaking following his first band’s demise has turned to gold with Homme’s touch.

From the fertile musical bed Kyuss was tilling, several musical projects have sprouted forth from the efforts of the former band mates — Queens of the Stone Age, Slo Burn, Hermano, Unida, Mondo Generator, Brant Bjork & the Bros, etc. The list continues to grow, but even more numerous are the copycats that attempted to fill the void Kyuss left behind in the genre they helped create.

Kyuss has used Sky Valley to paint aural landscapes that, for me, somehow bring to mind the California desert from whence they came, but don’t think the musical ideas they’ve brought to the table for our ears to feast upon are as barren as the land they call home. Seemingly, their sparse surroundings have allowed their minds to wander into exciting new territory. From the contemplative meanderings of “Space Cadet” to the crushing grooves of “Gardenia,” Kyuss reveals all sides of their musical psyche, and just as diverse as the sounds of the songs is the subject matter found within the lyrics. In the tunes I mentioned previously, the first is about waiting for psychotropic drugs to kick in, while the other is about the spirit of desert rock and the generator parties Kyuss was known to have had in the middle of the desert. The powerful, pounding percussion in the intro of “Demon Cleaner” gives way to a song about brushing teeth (seriously).

In closing, I have to say this is honestly one of my favorite albums. People new to Kyuss may have a hard time getting acquainted to their unique sound, but if a fan of heavy rock is looking to expand their horizons, this one is definitely worth checking out.

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About Jerry Stegall