With the widespread availability and relative affordability of recording software, it’s pretty easy for a band to make a decent-sounding record these days. You hear a lot of albums that sound clear, but ultimately flat; albums that give little more than a general sense of what the personality of a band might be. It’s all the more encouraging, then, when a band like Cincinnati, Ohio, trio (they may have been a foursome at the time) Valley of the Sun present a collection of tracks like their five-song The Sayings of the Seers EP. Without a label backing them, the rockers aligned themselves with producer John Naclerio, who’s worked on albums for the likes of Bayside and My Chemical Romance – say what you want about those bands, despite being wretched, they’re professionally produced – and put The Sayings of the Seers to press in a limited vinyl edition of 250. Then, to support, they booked a run of American dates alongside Truckfighters, pairing themselves with one of the most potent heavy rock acts today. You have to really believe in what you’re doing to partner with a band like that, and with the professional presentation of The Sayings of the Seers, it’s clear Valley of the Sun stand behind what they do. In short, they’re going for it.
That’s respectable in itself, but what’s even more noteworthy are the songs they’re going for it with. Valley of the Sun’s 2010 EP, aptly-titled Two Thousand Ten, had clarity of sound and formidable stoner rock fuzz – more of the latter even than does The Sayings of the Seers – but what “Hearts Aflame,” “Deep Light Burns,” “Mariner’s Tale,” “Aquarius” and “Riding the Dunes” lack in genre tropes, they make up for in excellence of songwriting and execution. Guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier leads the charge on “Hearts Aflame” with a John Garcia-esque vocal dexterity, and though that track is more Hermano than Kyuss in how modern it sounds, there’s no question that Valley of the Sun are placing themselves at the forefront of the new generation of American heavy rock. And in the case of “Hearts Aflame,” the distinction between heavy and stoner rocks feels like it needs to be highlighted, because it’s definitely the former over the latter. Where fellow Ohioans Lo-Pan have taken up the fuzz mantle and injected the sound with a soulful edge, Valley of the Sun, take the groove and are less reliant on tonal weight than catchy hooks and riffy drive.
It seems like a fine line, and I suppose it is, but on a cut like the stripped-down barn-burner “Deep Light Burns,” it’s virtually a world of difference. Valley of the Sun might share their countrymen’s penchant for upbeat, energetic songwriting, but they take it in a different direction altogether. With the straightforward punch of bassist Ryan McAllister and drummer Aaron Boyer propelling the song, Ferrier offers madman riffs and another Garcia-inspired inflection (the most Kyussian moment of The Sayings of the Seers is yet to come) vocal, but the appeal of the song is more the overall movement of it than any single performance within. It allows Valley of the Sun to up the momentum from “Hearts Aflame,” so that by the time “Mariner’s Tale” kicks in – only about nine minutes into the EP – you’re already locked into it.
“Mariner’s Tale” reminds me of some of fellow Midwesterners Bloodcow’s grooving bounce from their Hail Xenu album, particularly in the memorable-to-the-point-of-infectious chorus, but after the halfway mark, the song hits the breaks and Ferrier solos to start a build that’s one of the most effective moments on the whole of The Sayings of the Seers. It’s on stretches like this that Valley of the Sun show their real potential and make a more individual stamp on their sound, and as they go back to the chorus in the last 15 seconds of the song, it’s a righteous return you’re glad to have made. A lot of bands probably would have ended on that build’s payoff – which probably would’ve worked, too – but by finishing on the chorus, Ferrier, McAllister and Boyer show a penchant for structured songwriting that can only serve them well as they continue to develop. I don’t know how much of a part Naclerio played in the arrangements as producer, but Valley of the Sun display an early maturity across “Mariner’s Tale,” and for that reason, it’s probably my favorite cut of the five on the EP.
Side B launches with The Sayings of the Seers’ most stoner rock riffing in “Aquarius,” on which Ferrier sounds so much like John Garcia in the verse that it had me searching their Thee Facebooks page for some mention of a guest appearance, ultimately finding none. As on the earlier “Hearts Aflame,” Ferrier transitions later in the track to a more Chris Cornell-style delivery for the more open ending. At 3:36, “Aquarius” transitions into an acoustic-led section with periodic cymbal washes and tom hits from Boyer (there’s extra percussion there as well) that serves as a lead-in for “Riding the Dunes.” On the vinyl, I’d probably just think “Aquarius” ended after the song cuts out, but on the digital version of the EP, it’s a clear divide. “Riding the Dunes,” which is not to be confused with “Pilot the Dune” by post-Kyuss offshoot Slo Burn continues the more open wandering Valley of the Sun began with “Aquarius,” adding to the overall flow of the digital version of the EP – the vinyl listening experience being presumably interrupted by a break to change sides – with some of Ferrier’s best lead work, multi-layered vocals and a generally less rigid feel than the rest of the material. The track succeeds, however, in being no less memorable, capping with a long fadeout of the band hitting a groove that feels like it could go forever and topping it with the repeated line, “Whoa, yeah, riding the dunes,” that’s far more affecting aurally than on paper.
Unlike “Mariner’s Tale,” which reverts to its chorus, “Riding the Dunes” ends with this fadeout, but the ultimate difference between the two – and again, another demonstration of Valley of the Sun’s ability to craft a song – is that “Riding the Dunes” is less structured as a whole, so where the earlier track might have left one cold ending with its break, “Riding the Dunes” triumphs. It’s this kind of subtlety that The Sayings of the Seers makes its home in, and while on the surface, it’s a more than quality heavy rock offering, ultimately, the depth is what really stands it out among its peers even more than the production value. Provided Valley of the Sun can continue to hone this level of craft and grow into their own as a band, I see no reason they couldn’t stand with a select few others at the forefront of their generation of American heavy rockers. There will be those who can’t get past the derivative aspects of the EP, but that’s their loss, because these songs are worth the effort of a close listen, and anytime you can get that payoff, you should. Highly recommended.
Tags: Cincinnati, Ohio, Unsigned bands, Valley of the Sun