Californian desert rockers Fever Dog like to keep things nebulous. Their self-released (for now) sophomore full-length, Second Wind, brings together songs that were issued over the last two years since their 2012 debut, Volume One, as singles and in various other forms and unites them as a complete long-player. The album isn’t solely made up of these tracks, but with “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds,” “Hats off to Andrew Bowen” (review here) and “The Great Tree” (review here) having previously appeared, almost half the 10-track outing’s runtime is material already aired. How is it then that Second Wind manages to sound so fresh? I chalk it up to the jammy nature of the material itself, the variety the three-piece delivers across the board and the energy of their presentation. While generally a phrase like “Californian desert rockers” serves as little more than a dogwhistle for a Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age influence, Fever Dog dive much deeper than that, incorporating synthy space rock and drone to immediately distinguish their still-growing sound, winding up closer to Ufomammut than Sky Valley on the quick single “Iroquois” and blending acoustic guitar and swirling keyboard progressions on “Rukma Vimana” to give Second Wind a go-anywhere-at-anytime vibe that serves the band and their songs well. There are moments that feel disjointed — hazards of the trade — but whether it’s the moody grunge-gaze of “The Back of Beyond” or the huge solo that emerges from synth grandiosity in the back half of the nine-minute “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds,” the trio of Danny Graham (guitar/vocals/theremin), Nathan Wood (bass/noise) and Joshua Adams (drums/organ/backing vocals) never fail to bring the listener into the fold of their complex, rich and spacious sound, giving a Floydian progressive vision of what the genre can be while proffering jazzy rhythmic turns and an unwavering sense of creativity. Yes, it’s desert rock, but it’s also working toward a broader definition of what that means.
This alone makes the immersive 48-minute release admirable, and it proves only more so with an openness of structure. Well-named acoustic/electric guitar intro track “Obelisk” eases the listener into what proves to be a course rife with twists and turns, the title-track taking hold with a drum fill and fuzzy blend of lead and rhythm, Graham‘s verse arriving blown out and bluesy but not overdrone atop insistent riffy push. A shuffling jam emerges, the band never quite departing from and never quite returning to the verse as effects swell in a guitar solo toward the finish of the three-minute “Second Wind,” winding toward “The Back of Beyond” and a cymbal wash and slow strum that announces a different take, more Masters of Reality than perhaps it knows in its wah, but foreshadowing the rhythm that will surface heavier in “Iroquois,” vocals deep in the mix and given an echo that mirrors the guitar. A more solidified structure, but still pretty open, “The Back of Beyond” jams to its end and the six-minute “The Great Tree” swirls an intro to a more extended mostly-instrumental jam, some classic heavy rock edge working its way in early as more virtuoso leadwork gives over to the second half’s drum stomp from Adams and momentum-building push, Wood marking each measure turn with a punchy bassline that plays well alongside the lead guitar. “Iroquois” starts innocently enough but soon shifts into heavy psych chug with a vocal changeup to match, space rock pulse underlying the memorable riffing en route to trades between solo and riff, “One Thousand Centuries” coming on quick with a build-up from Adams that opens to fluid jamming not unlike that of “The Great Tree,” a verse nestling into a quieter section that gets by without coming right out and emphasizing the rush of Second Wind up to this point but making its point via subtlety anyway. Effects signal a transition in the second half of “One Thousand Centuries” — the title-line delivered discernibly through a wash of melody and echo — and the album’s most fervent freakout ensues, double-time drums, guitar soloing and bass runs coming to a head and capping with feedback that ends cold.
“Rukma Vimana” comes without a direct transition from “One Thousand Centuries,” which makes me think that if Fever Dog had vinyl in mind, that would be the point of the side A/B split. The three-minute raga-style cut, with its tanpura-style drone behind, acoustic strum, hand-claps mixed low and keyboard surge makes a fitting intro, though with “Hats off to Andrew Bowen” and “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds” behind it — both over nine minutes long — and 5:33 closer “Nexus” after that, I’m not sure it would all actually fit. Either way, this second half of Second Wind is where the three-piece really unfold their breadth, the longer-form material allowing for further exploration of their jammy ethos, heavy psych, desert rock, nighttime jazz and spaced-out vibing coming together across “Hats off to Andrew Bowen” in warm tones and momentum-driving drums, though it’s the guitar that ultimately leads the way out, solos layered on top of each other atop drone noise, the quiet first seconds of “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds” doing little to portray the song’s actual scope, vocals going a long way to ground it where “Hats off to Andrew Bowen” seemed to float out its run, exciting loud/quiet shifts leading to a cinematic synthesizer movement, hypnotic before Fever Dog snap back to their heavy build, Graham once again leading the way out as backwards guitar marks the change into closer “Nexus,” which is the record’s proggiest stretch, a last-minute change in vibe bringing a bluesy solo and quiet, key-laden verses to a head to a driving apex in the middle third before transitioning to the noisy, droning finish that provides the space rock preceding with a moment of landing before cutting off at the very end. It’s an impressive range that Fever Dog showcase throughout their second outing, revising and putting that previously-released material to its best use, but they also leave themselves room to grow as they continue forward in their songwriting and toying with structure. California’s desert has needed a next generation band to come to the fore stylistically and build on what groups like Fatso Jetson and earliest Queens of the Stone Age accomplished. There are already a few out there, but with Second Wind, Fever Dog position themselves to be right in the discussion in terms of potential torch-carriers for the years to come.