Further proof of the international appeal of desert rock arrives in the form of the self-titled debut by young Parisian trio Blaak Heat Shujaa, who — perhaps on a quest for some kind of tonal authenticité — flew all the way to Banning, California, to record with the legendary Scott Reeder (The Obsessed, Kyuss, etc.) at his Sanctuary Studio. Seems a long way for a couple of kids from France to go for desert cred, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t work out in their favor. Blaak Heat Shujaa (released by Improvising Beings) is as much a work of the environment in which it was produced as has been any of the albums by bands who actually come from there. Doubtless that’s thanks in no small part to Reeder. His ability to bring out the best and sweetest in Antoine Morel-Vulliez’s bass tone is enough to justify the flight in itself.
Over the course of his studio work, Reeder has definitely developed a specific style of production for this kind of music, and you can hear some similarities in Thomas Bellier’s guitar to acts like Dali’s Llama, who’ve worked with Reeder in the past. One thing he seems to take extra care with on Blaak Heat Shujaa is finding the right balance of separation in the instruments, which has been an issue before. On later cut “Moon,” you get the feeling that it’s still a work in progress as far as meshing the individual elements into one complete product, but there’s no doubt he’s come a long way and Blaak Heat Shujaa benefit greatly from his involvement. Their desert rock is more akin to Yawning Man than Kyuss — the distinction being mostly in a penchant for more laid back atmospheres and a willingness to ride parts out, rather than speed impatiently from one to the next — and though they’re definitely within the established confines of the genre, their reinforcement of the core elements thereof (the fuzz, the jams, the open spaces, the purples and blues and red night skies) is well-met and ably executed. I wonder if they wouldn’t be rougher, more brash and youthful, live, but they do what they do well on this disc, and as far as this review goes, that’s what matters.
The songs on Blaak Heat Shujaa range, but I’d still classify the album as “mostly instrumental,” since even where either Bellier or Morel-Vulliez contribute vocals (only drummer Timothée Gacon is silent), they’re an afterthought as compares to the guitar or the bass. In all seriousness, if you and I were at a bar and we were talking about Blaak Heat Shujaa, the first thing I would say to you is, “Dude, you gotta hear the bass on this record.” And I’d be right. As the kids say, it’s fucking sick. It’s in pretty solid balance with the guitar and vocals on opener “High on Altitude,” but occasionally, as on a section of the 11-minute and oft-soloed “Where You At,” it takes the lead as the guitars and Gacon’s drums hang back, and it’s positively magical. I don’t know what equipment Morel-Vulliez is using, but whatever it is, keep it. Whether it’s the more rocking “The Pest,” the quirky and awkward “Sinloakarma” or the surprisingly Om-esque “Let a Thousand Parks Bloom,” the bass is consistently a boon to Blaak Heat Shujaa.
“Moon” and “Moon (Part II)” close the album in succession, and though I don’t know if they needed to be split into two tracks, they serve well to wrap up the various sonic accomplishments Black Heat Shujaa can call its own. The trio, when they see fit, are able to hold the listener’s attention though an open-structure jam and masterfully weave it into the context of the overall song. Bellier’s sometimes layered, sometimes extended solos are welcome when they arrive, and though Gacon isn’t exactly putting on a clinic in terms of technicality and the drums sound like they were captured in a small space, his un-showy style of play suits the material well. It’s not without its forgettable moments, but Blaak Heat Shujaa’s debut is a strong opening statement from an otherwise unlikely source. You never know where those desert sands are going to show up.
Tags: Blaak Heat Shujaa, France, Improvising Beings, Paris