With new releases by both Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson (both delivered via Cobraside Distribution), 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for fans of true desert rock. As in, rock, from the desert. It doesn’t get much more so than the sweetly toned Yawning Man, whose latest album is the quizzically-titled Nomadic Pursuits. In what’s being billed as a “reunion lineup” boasting guitarist Gary Arce, bassist Mario Lalli (also guitar/vocals in Fatso Jetson) and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, the instrumental trio offer a glimpse into generator-party bliss, ringing out reverb into the open air as many bands try to do and almost nobody pulls off this well.
True, it’s been five years since Yawning Man put out the Rock Formations full-length and the Pot Head EP, which were compiled on vinyl in 2008’s Vista Point, but I for one am of the opinion that if Yawning Man happened every day it would lose some of the magic. Yeah, it would be cool to get a fresh batch of jams each year – I know I wouldn’t get tired of hearing Arce’s guitar tone, which if you want to get right down to it is more or less what launched the now-legendary Palm Desert scene those many years ago – but there’s something special about a release like Nomadic Pursuits. It doesn’t happen often, it serves a very specific purpose, and it feels special when you listen. Not every album does that.
And it’s not like we’ve been Arce-less. There was the killer Yawning Sons record last year in collaboration with the UK’s Sons of Alpha Centauri, and there was Dark Tooth Encounter and Arce’s contributions to Ten East and others that have at least somewhat filled a Yawning void. Nonetheless, once you hear the lively interaction between Arce, Lalli and Hernandez on “Far-off Adventure,” you’ll be forced to agree there’s nothing quite like the real deal. At 8:28, that’s the longest cut on Nomadic Pursuits, but not necessarily the most satisfying. The opener, “Camel Tow,” is warm enough to make me long for air conditioning, and as the jam is later revived and mutated on “Camel Tow Too,” it becomes something of a running theme throughout the album. A focal point, almost, but the music carries such a spontaneity and natural feel that to call something that feels like I’m saying it’s contrived, which would be grossly inaccurate.
It’s always fun to find an appropriate situation in which to listen to a record, where the senses fuse to create a full experience rather than just a hearing, and in that sense, I’ve found Nomadic Pursuits is almost certainly a nighttime album. On the closer, “Laser Arte,” Lalli comes to the fore of the mix and gives a somber rumble to complement Arce’s background leads, ending the record on a mellow but still emotionally weighted note. In contrast to the earlier cut “Sand Whip,” “Laser Arte” is slower and more arresting, but by the time you get there, the flow of Nomadic Pursuits has so much engulfed you that it could go anywhere and you’d be willing to follow. Hernandez turns in inventive tom work and a creative performance throughout, but his playing on “Sand Whip” is especially noteworthy, as he seamlessly drives an already rhythm-centered song in an active manner that’s not at all overplayed.
Make sure to pay attention as well to the gentle guitar layering that takes place in the hypnotic “Blue Foam,” which if you’re not careful will drift past without you realizing how gorgeous it actually is. Some of this material is a few years old, but Arce, Lalli and Hernandez play through it all as though it was freshly written in the studio. The songs are patient, yes, and openly structured (I’m pretty sure the tape just runs out on “Blue Foam”), but there’s an element of excitement to them as well. Lalli’s bass runs on “Ground Swell” give the song a punch it would otherwise be very much missing, and Hernandez’s constant hi-hat adds an urgency that, while somewhat frantic next to parts of Nomadic Pursuits, isn’t necessarily out of place within the context of the song itself.
Yawning Man have always been an “in the know” band for the heavy rock underground, far more influential than commercially successful, but the quality of a work like Nomadic Pursuits speaks for itself (no mean feat for an album without vocals). Arce is in top form guitar-wise, and the chemistry he has with Lalli and Hernandez makes these seven jams a joy to hear in whatever situation you feel they’re best heard. Its release was something of a surprise, but I’m glad to say that Nomadic Pursuits joins top notch albums like Brant Bjork’s Gods and Goddesses and Fatso Jetson’s Archaic Volumes on the short list of 2010 highlights. It’s the soundtrack to your summer swelter, and is not to be missed.California, Cobraside, La Quinta, Yawning Man