Review & Full Album Premiere: Yawning Man, Macedonian Lines

Yawning Man Macedonian Lines

[Click play above to stream Yawning Man’s Macedonian Lines in full. It’s out June 14 through Heavy Psych Sounds.]

Between 1986 and 2005,  Yawning Man released no albums. Between 2016 and 2019, with the advent of Macedonian Lines on Heavy Psych Sounds, they’ve now released three. That debut outing was 2005’s Rock Formations (discussed here), and it helped lead the band toward not just the subsequent Pot Head EP, but also to the 2007 release of their demo tracks,  The Birth of Sol (discussed here), and 2010’s sophomore studio album Nomadic Pursuits (review here), which launched what has unquestionably been the band’s most productive decade to-date. Solidified as the trio of guitarist Gary Arce (also Big Scenic Nowhere, Ten East, Zun, etc.), bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso JetsonBig Scenic Nowhere, etc.) and drummer Bill Stinson (Chuck Dukowski, etc.), Yawning Man has at last begun to capitalize on the incredible reputation that precedes them as one of the founding architects of Californian desert rock.

For the last several years, they’ve toured in Europe and — more surprisingly — the US, releasing a split with Fatso Jetson in 2013, Historical Graffiti (review here) in 2016 and last year’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here), the latter beginning the alliance with Heavy Psych Sounds, to which Lalli‘s outfit Fatso Jetson are also signed. Arce, whose drifting guitar tone is as much a signature for Yawning Man as any band could have, has always been involved in a number of projects and continues to be, but a successive-year turnaround for Yawning Man full-lengths is simply unprecedented in the band’s 33-year history. Yet Macedonian Lines, with six tracks and an almost humble 31-minute runtime, offers not just a batch of new jams from a trio of nigh-unmatched sonic fluidity — somewhat ironic since, you know, the desert and all — but also a showcase of the potential that’s been in their dynamic all along, waiting, essentially, to be honed by the players involved. Stinson is not an original member, but he plays like one, and Lalli and Arce are, and the chemistry between the three of them, especially as it’s been honed on tour over the last few years, is at a new level in these songs.

And it’s appropriate, then, that the material throughout Macedonian Lines would find its root in live performances, coming together around jams from the last tour. Bookended by its two longest cuts in leadoff “Virtual Funeral” (6:49) and closer “I Make Weird Choices” (7:25), flows like a short live set, the three-piece building momentum as they move through the title-track and into “Melancholy Sadie” — presumably that’s as opposed to “Sexy Sadie” — as well as “Bowie’s Last Breath” and “I’m Not a Real Indian (But I Play One on TV),” all of which check in at under five minutes long. Being born of jams, it speaks to the band’s songwriting process that the finished products would end up on the shorter side, as Yawning Man seem to be moving toward an efficiency of delivery — five of the eight cuts on The Revolt Against Tired Noises were over five minutes — that, somewhat incredibly, doesn’t take away from the laid back spirit of the LP itself.

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Especially with the memorable melody the guitar brings forth on “Virtual Funeral” accompanied by piano and Lalli‘s rumbling bass beneath, as well as Stinson‘s drums tying it all together, Macedonian Lines works quickly to immerse the listener in its atmospheric warmth, easing into “Macedonian Lines” with a speedier, winding guitar line that’s still very much in their wheelhouse before opening up to a broader progression, building and releasing tension in a way that even just a few years ago the band likely wouldn’t have done. It’s a different kind of awareness and engagement with the audience happening on Macedonian Lines, and the feel throughout is very much like a second album — which it is, of their tenure on Heavy Psych Sounds — in terms of how it builds on what The Revolt Against Tired Noises introduced idea-wise about who and what Yawning Man are as a group. Here, they offer gracefully expansive arrangements of guitar, bass and drums, setting their sights on open spaces and conveying not just the soul of the desert or some idea of what they’re expected to be, but of how they’ve grown and are still progressing as players. Matured and maturing still.

“Melancholy Sadie” is anchored by a bassline that lives up to the title, and the weight Lalli adds to “Bowie’s Last Breath” is likewise crucial, as he and Arce set up in a you-go-high-I’ll-go-low attack as regards frequency range with Stinson cutting through the tonal wash with a punctuating snare even as his crash adds to the methodical, patient patterning of the bass and guitar. Stinson is more than timekeeper, but he’s not an overly flashy player, and part of the reason he has come to fit so well in Yawning Man since joining in 2011 is he allows the string section room to breathe. The longer cuts emphasize this more, unsurprisingly, but even the march he brings to “I’m Not a Real Indian (But I Play One on TV)” resounds with purpose and continues the momentum into the serene beginning of “I Make Weird Choices,” a culmination with far-back keyboard flourish — though I’ll allow that could be guitar effects — that echoes the trance-inducing aspects of the opener even as it calls to mind more of a heavy post-rock feel in its quiet-loud tradeoffs, taking what might otherwise be verses and choruses and setting them up not in opposition to each other, but as complementary elements toward the same purpose.

The same essentially applies to the work of Arce and Lalli throughout Macedonian Lines, as they are two players with different mindsets who come together for the common end of defining Yawning Man‘s ultra-influential sound. Macedonian Lines, though ultimately brief, is a triumph of the cohesion between their two strong personalities, and a showcase of what has not only let the band survive their long tenure, but to do so in such a way as to be more vital now than they’ve ever been. I don’t know if Yawning Man will have another album out in 2020, or what their future will bring, but as they ascend to their rightful place in the forefront of desert rock consciousness, their ongoing progression seems bound to inspire yet another generation of players. As a fan, I hope they keep the momentum going.

Yawning Man, “Macedonian Lines” official video

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