Review & Full Album Premiere: La Chinga, Beyond the Sky

la chinga beyond the sky

[Click play above to stream La Chinga’s Beyond the Sky in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 7 on Small Stone Records.]

It’s tempting to say that if your van’s not rockin’, don’t bother knockin’ on La Chinga‘s second album for Small Stone and third overall, Beyond the Sky, but the truth is that just about everybody is invited to come dig on what the Vancouver, B.C., buds have put together this time out. It’s a collection of 11 tracks topping 45 minutes that makes the most out of big, unabashed hooks and a classic party-rocking sensibility, from the opening “Woo!” in “Nothin’ That I Can’t Do” into the ’70s-styled “Wings of Fire” and the proto-metal-turns-stoner-mellow-solo-jam “Mama Boogie,” which may or may not be a sequel to “Boogie Children” from their 2013 self-titled debut (discussed here) and which you’d best believe brings back its chorus at the end, it brims with energy well beyond what might qualify as “electric” and sounds in true Small Stone fashion not like it’s mining its influences for parts to reorder and recreate in vintageist loyalty, but instead like it’s engaging with the legends and rockers of yore — Nazareth, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and a host of others among them — to hone a modern interpretation of what they did those generations ago.

The result is an ass-shaking good time that plays itself out high on professionalism and void of pretense as the everybody-sings three-piece of guitarist Ben Yardley, bassist Carl Spackler and drummer Jason Solyom make their way through the opening salvo of the aforementioned three cuts and into the mid-paced “Black River,” no less catchy but with a shift in vocals that marks a transition into the next stage of the release. Their 2016 Small Stone debut, Freewheelin’ (review here), worked in much the same aesthetic territory, but where Beyond the Sky distinguishes itself is in its songwriting. “Mama Boogie,” with that midsection jam-out, is the longest inclusion at 5:35, and the Southern-styled centerpiece “Keep on Rollin'” is the only other cut that tops five minutes, but even those feel taut in their construction, like they’ve been hammered out — not flat, or dry in their delivery at all, but worked on, ironed free of their inefficiencies, and built with a genuine will to engage their audience as they otherwise might on stage, “Nothin’ That I Can’t Do” a signal that festivities have begun that feels hand-made to start a live set.

Lyrics like “Hey mama/Hey mama boogie!” from that song and “Freedom, alright” from “Keep on Rollin’,” as well as some of the declarations in what would seem to be the self-descriptive “H.O.W. (Are You Ready?” — the acronym standing for “Hell on Wheels,” which if you’re into Fu Manchu is no big deal — and the closer “Warlords” might require a grain of salt, but while La Chinga are most certainly all about having fun, they’re not so tongue-in-cheek that they either lose sight of the importance of the songs’ structure or that they feel insincere in their delivery. To be clear, Beyond the Sky is a blast. On point in its pro-shoppery, boozy in all the right ways but not so tipsy that Yardley can’t bust out a succession of blinding solos, and never out of line with the central mission, it nonetheless carries just an undercurrent of danger as the listener makes their way through the front-to-back, if only for the “how can they keep this up?” factor. They do keep it up, though.

la chinga

Side B cuts like “Killer Wizard” and “Death Rider” and “Feel it in My Bones” would be filler on many records — and many records of this ilk; vinyl-ready but more CD length and linear-feeling in its flow — but La Chinga allow for no dip in quality as “Killer Wizard” builds its chorus around choice riffing, “Death Rider” elicits a groove so righteous they just as easily could’ve named it “Papa Boogie” to correspond with “Mama” earlier, and “Feel it in My Bones” proffers yet another masterful hook en route to the closing duo. There are changes in mood throughout, but never a turn from the band’s central purpose of craft, and the spirit of the material they bring to bear throughout Beyond the Sky is as much about the high level of its execution as the who’s-up-for-a-cocktail vibe. For an offering that sounds so studio-made — that is, crisp in the production of Jeremy Koch at Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, and with such an overarching clarity of sound — the vitality that SpacklerYardley and Solyom bring to the proceedings is no less infectious than the choruses they seem to have in such endless supply.

I don’t know if I’d say that’s the greatest accomplishment of Beyond the Sky — take your pick between that and the songwriting itself — but it’s certainly a noteworthy aspect of the listening experience and it serves La Chinga well throughout. In their harmonies, standout guitar work and sunshiny vibe, their energy comes through even the quieter or slower stretches of the songs, and it’s not so much a push as in something being inflicted on the listener as it’s an invitation. Hey, we’re out back and we have some beers — come hang. Whether an individual gets down with what the band are tossing out is of course up to them — nothing is universal — but La Chinga make a strong case for themselves in these tracks, and offer a reminder that a band doesn’t need a ton of experimentalism or heady prog to entice an audience; they just need to make it sound like they’re where it’s at.

And from their ass-shaking grooves to their stories about wizards and warlords and death riders and Mama Boogie herself — all things one might find painted on the side of a van that either is or isn’t rockin’ when you come knockin’ — La Chinga most definitely do that. They’ve been kicking around for six years now and have steadily made a name for themselves since the self-titled and have only continued to refine their approach since then. It’s easy to hear songs like “Black River” and “Death Rider” and the DeepPurple-minus-organ drive of “Warlords” at the end and pine for some mystical bygone age of heavy rock and roll, when “men were men” and the west was wild and jeans were tight and blah blah blah. Bullshit. Fact of the matter is La Chinga aren’t happening 45 years ago. They’re happening right now, and the lessons they’ve learned may be from a formative era but what they’re doing with them is as much of this moment as anything else belonging to this bizarre, bizarre time. It’s a challenge to think we might be in a heavy rock heyday. La Chinga make it a little easier.

La Chinga, “Wings of Fire” official video

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Small Stone Records website

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4 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: La Chinga, Beyond the Sky

  1. John Oulton says:

    Wow, this rocks! Thanks guys! I’m gonna buy this now!

  2. […] of what they did those generations ago.” Read more and stream Beyond The Sky at THIS LOCATION. And if you missed it, view the band’s previously-released videos for “Wings Of […]

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