Friday Full-Length: Vista Chino, Peace

Vista Chino, Peace (2013)

Was it even real? Did it actually happen? And five years later, how are we supposed to think about Vista Chino‘s lone studio effort? Were they really as close to a Kyuss reunion as we’ll ever get?

Even when Napalm Records put out Peace (review here) in 2013, the story of the band was always going to be their second record. True, their beginnings might have been in vocalist John Garcia performing Garcia Plays Kyuss on tour in Europe — I was there at Roadburn 2010 when they played — and they did their time touring as the exclamatory Kyuss Lives! before a lawsuit from former Kyuss guitarist/Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme forced the name change, but wasn’t that going to be a blessing in disguise? By the time Vista Chino were touring in support of Peace, they were a completely different entity from a Kyuss reunion. True, the middle of the stage housed Garcia and Brant Bjork behind him playing drums, but to the right of the stage was guitarist Bruno Fevery and to the left was Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity, so the Garcia/Bjork collaboration, while the impetus for the band, was still only half the story. Particularly once Dean got involved, taking over for Nick Oliveri, the potential for Vista Chino to move forward from Kyuss‘ status as one of the principle sculptors of desert rock became huge. They were their own band. And it was going to be the second album that showed it.

Although, listening back, Peace was its own entity at the time as well. Even in its more active stretches — “Dargona Dragona” or “Sweet Remain” early in the tracklist — it didn’t feel outwardly aggressive in the same way Kyuss was, and moreover, it didn’t feel like it wanted to be. With Bjork and the Belgian import Fevery — for whose band, ArsenalGarcia had previously done a guest vocal spot — as the principle songwriters, tracks like “As You Wish,” “Adara,” “Barcelonian” and certainly the ending jam in “Acidize…. The Gambling Moose” carried the Bjorkian stamp of laid back swing as heard so often throughout his solo work, even if the tone of the fuzz in the guitar and bass was different and so many of the lyrics, and indeed, the album’s title, centered their theme around the aforementioned lawsuit. The name change allowed Vista Chino to be their own band, separate and distinct more than just legally from Kyuss and the insurmountable legacy thereof, vista chino peaceand allowed Peace to be considered on its own terms. Listening to Brant step in to trade off vocal duties with Garcia on “Planets 1 & 2,” there was so much there still to be explored. So much chemistry and so much still to say.

Peace wasn’t a perfect album by any means. “Dargona Dragona” pushes Garcia‘s vocals forward in the mix to an almost abrasive level — his voice would cut through either way, put it lower and make the guitar sound more spacious — and that made for a somewhat rough first impression, but as the record unfolded, the likes of “As You Wish,” the boogie-laden “Dark and Lovely” and the dreamily melodic hook of “Barcelonian,” as well as “Planets 1 & 2,” the interlude “Mas Vino” and the already noted ending jam-out, typified a mellow soul that in combination with the tonal weight helped exemplify one of the essential dynamics of desert rock. That something can still have presence without beating its chest in anger. And not that Peace didn’t have its angry moments — remember the legal trouble — but the ultimate character of the songs wasn’t defined entirely by that anymore than Vista Chino were going to be defined by who Kyuss were when they were around.

And a sophomore full-length would have been essential to that. In the narrative of the band, particularly with their lineup solidified as GarciaFeveryDean and Bjork, it would have been the moment where they fully transitioned from a reunion act to a forward-moving group engaged in a creative progression. No doubt a second LP would have learned some lessons from the first, but I believe firmly they would have been able to push themselves forward in terms of the songwriting and build on the accomplishments that came through in Peace, which were already considerable. A second Vista Chino album would have been the point at which they’d be able to prove once and for all that their aim wasn’t just to capitalize on the internet and social media-born cult popularity of Kyuss and play bigger venues than they Garcia and Bjork might otherwise on solo tours, but to establish a new dynamic as a four-piece and work with that in terms of songwriting and an overarching development of craft. Peace already started to push them forward from simply engaging with what Bjork and Garcia had done in the past — though certainly some of the lyrics dealt with it in positive and negative terms — but it was the next one that was going to really be the point where they came into their own.

One never says never in rock and roll, but half a decade later, there’s been no external sign of any Vista Chino activity whatsoever. Garcia released John Garcia (review here), his first solo album, on Napalm in 2014, and Bjork likewise stepped back into his already-in-progress solo career, building in some ways on what Vista Chino did with his next two records, 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) before signing with Heavy Psych Sounds for this year’s excellent Mankind Woman (review here). Garcia has evolved solo work into band-leadership, and after the mostly-acoustic early 2017 outing, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (review here), he’ll front his newly-rebranded backing group as John Garcia and the Band of Gold on a fully-plugged self-titled LP due out early next year. Bjork did a full US stint in the company of Corrosion of Conformity and Mothership, but aside from an appearance at Planet Desert Rock Weekend in Las Vegas last week, Garcia‘s priorities in terms of live performance have been almost exclusively based in Europe.

I don’t know that Vista Chino won’t get together five, seven, 10 years from now and do a follow-up to Peace. As right on as Garcia and Bjork‘s solo stuff has been — which is not to mention Dean and C.O.C., who reunited with guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan a couple years back and issued No Cross No Crown (review here) on Nuclear Blast early in 2018 –I wish they already had. But as it stands five years later, Vista Chino‘s lone full-length occupies an odd place as something of an underrated footnote in the Kyuss family tree. Tarnished by the lawsuit and abandoned by the players, its songs nonetheless continue in their vitality to carry the spirit of what could have been.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Oh my goodness.

The good news is we got through the first week of the first-ever two-week Quarterly Review, and there wasn’t really a point at which I didn’t think I wouldn’t live to tell the tale. Still another five days of 10 records per day to go, but you know. I get up, bust out a few reviews, finish what needs finishing during baby naptimes. I make it work. That’s what I’ve done with The Obelisk all along. I’ve made it work.

In thinking about the rest of this month: This week is obviously locked in, and the Year-End Poll is up. Sweet. My own Best of 2018 list will be up Dec. 20. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a top 20 or a top 30 this year, but somehow it always seems to involve at least 100 records anyway, so I don’t think it really matters. The next episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio is also a year-end edition. I already sent in the playlist.

And yeah, I kind of feel like I’m about to keel over, but whatever. Nothing in life is permanent. You do what you have to do to get through a day, then there’s another day until there isn’t.

That’s all.

This has been a weird year. Ups and downs. Severe. Stark contrasts. I saw The Pecan take his first steps and I still don’t go a day without just loathing every part of myself. I traveled to Tilburg, to London and to Oslo, to Vegas and Maryland, but I feel like there’s so much I haven’t seen. King Buffalo played Boston last weekend. The show was sold out at O’Brien’s. I didn’t go, in part because my sleep schedule is such that I need to be in bed early so I can get up early and write, and in part because the thought of going to a show makes me so anxious that I can’t really handle it anymore. Not only does no one give a shit when I do a live review — fests are one thing, and even that’s meh — but a regular gig? I’ll spend hours going through photos and writing it up, and it just falls flat. And it takes the space that otherwise would go to an album review. But it’s more the thought of talking to people, or not talking to people, or just being at a club, that has me locked in. I’m just not there in my head. Still, I was sorry to miss that show. I usually am.

Weird year. Weird couple weeks. I’d love to stop taking meds. Every time I try it’s a fucking nightmare.

This weekend I’ll catch up on email and get a jump the Quarterly Review and other stuff that’ll be posted next week. As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m way behind on news and whatnot, but thankfully it’s December and things are lighter to a degree as we move into list season for press. I don’t know if I’ll do the full round of lists — best debuts, best EPs, etc. — on account of having been set back for basically three months’ worth of stuff when I got robbed in May, but I’ve got my notes and I’ll cobble together whatever I can and have it up before the end of the month.

I’m also going to start doing a post wrapping up each episode of The Obelisk Show. I want to have my own archive of playlists, so that’ll be that.

Thank you for your continued support. Please have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum, radio stream, and merch.

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3 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Vista Chino, Peace

  1. goAt says:

    “Not only does no one give a shit when I do a live review…”

    I miss those the most. One of my favorite things was to go to a gig, see you down front, and know I’d get to relive the gig all over again as I read your excellent take. Photos were always rad too…

    …I feel you with the anxiety shit-I loathe crowds, but man, once the riff hits, it don’t even matter.

  2. Mike says:

    I don’t like crowds these days JJ not one for people really. For the gigs I will move around a bit till I find somewhere with a litlle perceived space in my head and like goAT says go with the riffs. I like your gig reviews because oftens as its someone I would love to see but who may struggle to get over to the UK and I am not one for going to London so it s nice to see a detailed review unlike 2 sentences in a magazine if they even make the magazine.

    A post wrapping up the Obelisk show would be way cool, its not super user friendly digging through the Gimme site. So having it on here to bookmark would be a really useful thing.

    Have a great weekend.

    Mike

  3. V says:

    Nail on the head. ‘Peace’ was necessary, but the follow up more so. But the follow up never came…
    You put into words what frustrated me about this release.

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