When this album was first released it seemed as if it was missing an unknown ingredient that is found in “Blues for the Red Sun” and “Welcome to Sky Valley”. As the years passed I found that I would grab one of the other two albums before I would grab this one (never mind “Wretch” – that album is more of a trophy for Kyuss collectors than anything else, not as good as the others, but still a keepsake). Not that this album isn’t good… it’s amazing… just different than the others. Perhaps there is a sense that the band is on its way out, perhaps the unity that was in the other albums doesn’t come out of the music like it once did. It’s hard to place.
And then a few years ago I popped this CD into my car stereo one morning… and left it there for weeks. I listened to it every time I was in the car, enough that people started to notice. It was just too good to take it out. It was one of those great moments when I “rediscover” a CD from my collection, when I remind myself how cool an album is.
This album takes everything that the members of Kyuss built over the previous albums and puts a 400 grit sandpaper polish on it. It’s not shiny, but for Kyuss, it’s polished, where they are taking on a dull sheen that comes with exposure and experience. Josh Homme has learned a lot by this album, exploring more of the guitar neck than he had in the past. Like other albums, Homme still uses the technique of layering octaves over one another to create depth in the sound, but he has acquired more courage to use the higher notes, the frets above number 7 and the strings lighter than .032 gauge. Homme never attempts wailing solos, probably because he doesn’t like them (he tried on “Wretch”, but he was young and inexperienced then).
The instruments don’t blend together as much as they do on other albums, meaning that the mixing is perhaps cleaner than before. Each track is more distinguishable. “Phototropic” is a reminder of what Kyuss can do, a 5 minute studio jam of octaves layered on one another, blending in and out of melody and heavy rocking, and Garcia’s vocals don’t start until half way through the song. It is a beautiful thing.
“El Rodeo” is definitely one of my favorite songs. I remember my freshmen year of college, listening to this album in my dorm room and picking out the touch of Spanish guitar in the lead riff. When I finally nailed it, it wasn’t hard to pick up the rest, and then I kept rocking to it for probably a week. Its the same Kyuss formula… find a riff, built on it by expanding on the key, bring it to crescendo, and then rock it out. And it always works.
“Size Queen” is a grooving rythm that is more funky than things Kyuss has done in the past. Again, it is based on a single riff created by Josh Homme that is distinctly his own, but they build it well. One gets the feeling that much of Kyuss’ music is built on riffs that Josh discovered while messing around with his guitar, but every song is inevitably a masterpiece.
“Catamaran” is beautiful. It uses much less distortion, much more reverb (and maybe some chorus?), and is much more expansive than any other song on the album. Again, Kyuss shows the odd talent to blend metal with melody, because it isn’t long before “Catamaran” takes on the low dirge of metal riffs, but falls right back into the melody. It is sad that it is only a 2 minutes and 59 seconds long.
“Catamaran” is followed by “Spaceship Landing”, an appropriately long jam that ends the album, fades into silence after 11 minutes until 32:15, when a slow melody arises, a combination of many layers of Garcia’s voice accompanied by only guitar and bass.
The Kyuss triumverate, “Welcome to Sky Valley”, “Blues for the Red Sun”, and “…And the Circus Leaves Town”, are a must-have set for anyone looking for unique and pleasurable music. The first album, “Wretch” will disappoint anyone familiar with Kyuss’ later work, but it is an extra piece to add to the collection, just to say you have it.