Review & Full Album Stream: Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

[Click play above to stream Big Scenic Nowhere’s Vision Beyond Horizon in full. Album is out Jan. 31 on Heavy Psych Sounds with preorders here.]

At the heart of Big Scenic Nowhere is the collaboration between guitarists Bob Balch and Gary Arce, and if it came to it, that would probably be enough of a band to go on. The project inherits its name but not much else (aside the guitarist himself) from an older side-project of Arce‘s splintered off from his main outfit, desert rock progenitors Yawning Man that released a demo circa 2012. Balch is of course known for his tenure in Fu Manchu, but over the years has established himself apart from those landmark fuzz rockers in Sun and Sail Club and with the ongoing guitar instructional series Playthisriff.com. After getting together to jam, the two guitarists founded Big Scenic Nowhere and worked toward bringing in outside collaborators for their first studio foray, 2019’s sprawling and proggy Dying on the Mountain EP (discussed here), that was issued as a part of the Blues Funeral Recordings limited Postwax vinyl subscription series.

That release, inherently somewhat feeling-each-other-out in vibe, introduced Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed and The Well‘s Lisa Alley and Ian Graham as vocalists and contributors, as well as Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, etc.), Thomas Jäger from Monolord and others along the way. Big Scenic Nowhere‘s debut full-length, the nine-song/44-minute Heavy Psych Sounds LP Vision Beyond Horizon, is almost entirely more cohesive in its purpose, blending some of the proggier elements of the EP into washes of Mellotron and Wurlitzer on side-ending pieces like “Hidden Wall” and “War Years” as Tony Reed becomes an essential third collaborator in the band alongside Balch and Arce.

At least according to the LP credits, Reed has a hand in writing five of the nine songs on Vision Beyond Horizon, including solo composition on the 95-second second-track hardcore punk blaster “The Paranoid,” on which his son, Kylen Reed, plays bass — and which changes the entire context of the opening of the record — as well as highlights “Mirror Image” and the penultimate “Tragic Motion Lines.” Balch, whose relative tally as regards songwriting is eight compared to Arce‘s four, would seem to be the driving force behind Big Scenic Nowhere at least at this stage.

However, given the breadth of the progressive, desert-hued rock they harness, the fact of multiple songwriters at all, and the work others like vocalist/guitarist Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, etc.), bassists Mario Lalli (Fatso JetsonYawning Man) and Nick Oliveri (Mondo Generator), keymaster Wiberg and drummer Bill Stinson (Yawning Man) are doing throughout, it doesn’t necessarily feel right to base expectation for future modus on what’s happening here. That is, just because it’s mostly Balch writing songs this time doesn’t mean it won’t be Arce and Reed jams next time, and so on. The nature of the band feels more fluid than that, and as players, BalchArce and Reed revel in that fluidity. It becomes an essential component of the album’s success and the band’s potential.

big scenic nowhere

That’s a rare angle to take to head toward “encouraging debut,” but frankly, Big Scenic Nowhere are putting themselves in the position of being a rare band, and the varied persona they present on this encouraging debut is a big part of why. It’s the nature of “supergroups” to be uneven, but particularly the changes in vocalists weave a path through the proceedings that benefits from the changes. Whether it’s Johannes channeling DavidBowie-via-JerryCantrell on the crashing-in opener “The Glim” and resurfacing on side B’s mellower “En las Sombras,” or Graham and Alley bringing their underappreciated cult-style duet arrangements to side A’s “Then I Was Gone” and the later counterpart “Shadows from the Altar,” Big Scenic Nowhere not only serves as a showcase for stellar performances, but elements like Arce‘s signature tone, Balch‘s choice riffing and Reed‘s taking point on the majority of tracks — he sings on “The Paranoid,” “Mirror Image,” “Hidden Wall,” “Tragic Motion Lines” and subsequent closer “War Years” — are all the more standouts in tying the material together.

Whatever their future plans or creative whims might be as regards these remote/fly-in collaborations, they serve on Vision Beyond Horizon to help define who and what are as a group, and the instrumental arrangements as vast enough to accommodate the shifts, be it the spooky boogie of “Then I Was Gone” and “Shadows from the Altar” or the emergent fuzz-laden rollout of “Hidden Wall,” which approaches the seven-minute mark and closes side A. That they’re able to harness consistency at all is a considerable achievement, but that they do so in such a fashion as to make change the constant effectively doubles that. “The Paranoid” also functions in this way, establishing early on in the overarching procession of the album that Big Scenic Nowhere are able and willing to tread whatever ground they see fit. If it opened or closed, it would be too easy to write off as an intro or afterthought. As it is, right after the immediately dug-in, Mellotron-laced midtempo groove of “The Glim,” its brash thrust is the proverbial suckerpunch for arriving so unexpectedly.

But that’s also what makes it fun.

As with most debut full-lengths, it’s hard to listen to what Big Scenic Nowhere — the core writing team of BalchArce and Reed — bring to Vision Beyond Horizon and wonder what might come next and into what direction their style or output might ultimately turn. If there’s an answer to be found in these tracks, it’s that they’re able to capture a multifaceted complexity of songwriting that highlights individual players while still serving a broader aesthetic purpose, and that basically, they can do whatever the hell they want with their sound. If Dying on the Mountain was an initial foray into working together, Vision Beyond Horizon lives up to its title in having the poise and confidence of its approach to earn the listener’s trust that, if something didn’t belong, or wasn’t doing what they intended, it wouldn’t be there. It may be next to impossible to predict what Big Scenic Nowhere might do from this point forward, but listening to Vision Beyond Horizon, it’s easy to know it will be worth finding out.

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