Ivy Garden of the Desert, Blood is Love: Midnight at the Oasis

At six tracks/33 minutes, Blood is Love has all the flow between its songs that one could ask of a full-length, but it is nonetheless the darker second in a trilogy of EPs from Italian stoner rockers Ivy Garden of the Desert. That they’re heavily indebted to the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age/Desert Sessions sphere of heavy shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – they had much the same influence on the prior Docile EP (review here), also released by Nasoni, and they do have “desert” in their name – but the Montebelluna three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Diego, bassist Paolo and drummer Andrea set their own mood within that scope, not really veering too far from what one might expect, but keeping a humble kind of individuality in the tracks. That proves increasingly true the closer they get to the finale, “Glicine,” but even with the more active beginning that “Viscera” – would it be too much to call it “gutsy?” – provides, they remain melodically aware. In that, Blood is Love is consistent with Docile, though the latest is perhaps even more cohesive in terms of style. There’s an element of the brooding in Diego’s singing, his accent adding to it as the lyrics are in English, and that fits the laid-back grooving in the riffs as well, though the separation in the mix between guitar, bass and drums is prevalent, and though the EP ends with a sample of a tape spinning out, it sounds much more like a digital recording. Whether it is or not, I don’t know – information is sparse – but that’s how it sounds to my ears, anyway, with a decent amount of compression on Andrea’s kit and the guitars and bass alike. The mix was my chief issue last time around, with Diego’s vocals high and cutting through, and to an extent that remains true with Blood is Love, but the instruments stand up to the singing, whether it’s the Songs for the Deaf-style speed riffing of the opener or the punchy bass of “A Golden Rod for This Virgin,” the second track which seems to have long ago passed the “Welcome to Sky Valley” highway sign.

Without lyrics or some general statement of intent beyond the basic knowledge that Ivy Garden of the Desert are working on a trilogy of which Blood is Love is the middle, more aggressive piece, it’s hard to say what exactly it is tying the releases together beyond the basic aesthetic and desert atmosphere, but if that’s it, at least there’s plenty to work with. They’re obviously aware of the genre they’re working in, and where much of the European heavy psych and stoner scene seems to be pushing toward tonally warm jamming, Ivy Garden of the Desert never feel out of control in these tracks, even as the cyclical tom work and start-stop riffing of “A Golden Rod for this Virgin” gives way to its building second half. There’s an open feeling in the tonality, but the songs remain structured, even if it’s just one part into the next. It flows. The songs within themselves flow and the tracks each into the other, though again, if they were written to purposefully serve some overarching whole, I don’t know. It does make the EP an easier listen that it otherwise might be, though. The instrumental “Weasel in Poultry Skin” continues the desert-minded push of the first two cuts, working in some vague Helmet influence both in its intro and later start-stop moments while also avoiding any vocal mix issues, but even here, Blood is Love offers little clue as to what it’s about. They remain aligned to genre, but push the line somewhat with “Ghost Station,” furthering the start-stop guitar that’s been present all along to the absolute fore, both Andrea and Paolo joining Diego in mutes and thuds. The song introduces itself with a jangly guitar, and that comes in again at the end with a more active bassline, but the crux of it is a series of single hits that don’t seem to develop a dynamic build, staying on a kind of repetitive plateau that, coupled with Diego’s moody, bottom-of-the-mouth vocals, begins quickly to smack of nü-metal. One might also point to that as a post-Helmet facet of the band’s sound, but it’s the melody that makes the difference. It sounded like nü-metal when Page Hamilton started singing too.

Call that a misstep and I don’t think you’d be wrong, but Blood is Love’s closing duo expands the formula a bit and offers hopefully a glimpse of what’s to come with the last installment in Ivy Garden of the Desert’s trilogy. “1991” begins with Diego’s guitar strumming out tremolo chords before Paolo’s grooving, prominent bass kicks in alongside Andrea’s consistent timekeeping. The guitar is more spaced out initially, which makes the vocals in the verse sound even more forward with just the bass to cover, but after two minutes in, crunch resumes and once more it seems like the snare that’s high. After the chorus, the guitar drops out and once again it’s the vocals, bass and drums for the verse, Diego gradually reappearing as the Queens of the Stone Age-esque verse cycle starts again, but in the song’s second half, it embarks on a riffier, more forward-stretch that acts as a payoff for the first, and so gives the whole song a sense of direction, where “Ghost Station” was largely lacking precisely that. Even better is that “1991” flows directly into the quiet beginning of “Glicine,” which at 8:34 is the longest song on Blood is Love by two minutes, but also has a more accomplished feel. Maybe taking their time to make a more drawn out, atmospheric statement suits Ivy Garden of the Desert, because on the whole, “Glicine” is dynamic in a way that works much to its favor, developing into an extension of the mood of the prior tracks while showing a more individualized breadth on the part of the band, an insistent bassline from Paolo leading to an engagingly riffed midsection that’s neither entirely separated from nor exactly a part of the dune worship the trio previously promulgated. All instrumental for its first six minutes, the track winds its way down into acoustic contemplation before Diego actually starts singing, and when he does, he double-layers his voice, giving an increase in presence both literally and figuratively. Blood is Love may have its strengths and its weaknesses, but no question the last track is among the former, the acoustics giving way to thicker riffing that picks up speed after a couple measures to end up a suitably rocking finish before the aforementioned “tape” runs out. Whatever their methods, there continues to be potential in Ivy Garden of the Desert’s sound that they haven’t tapped yet. There are flashes of potential, as on the closer, but elsewhere the songwriting feels derivative in comparison, and so on a conceptual level, the tracks are uneven. In terms of actual listening, however, the whole thing plays out smoothly, so maybe that’s all that matters. For what they do well, Ivy Garden of the Desert remain worth a look for desert rock loyalists, and with the third EP to come, there are still plenty of reasons to stay invested in seeing how it all plays out in the conclusion.

Ivy Garden of the Desert on Thee Facebooks

Nasoni Records

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One Response to “Ivy Garden of the Desert, Blood is Love: Midnight at the Oasis”

  1. Jay says:

    Cool review JJ. I was pretty into this one. There’s definitely room for growth, but this was really a trip down desert rock, memory lane for me. I’m obsessed with “1991,” especially. Love that chorus, and the lyrics.

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