Friday Full-Length: Hermano, …Into the Exam Room

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Hermano, …Into the Exam Room (2007)

In the vast catalog of vocalist John Garcia, which includes Unida, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, three solo records, Zun and more guest appearances than I can count in addition to his time fronting the formative desert rockers Kyuss, Hermano‘s third album, …Into the Exam Room, is the most undervalued. Issued in 2007 by Suburban Records, it was recorded in no fewer than six studios, featured writing contributions from Garcia as well as guitarists Dave Angstrom and Mike Callahan, bassist Dandy BrownChris Leathers completed the lineup and I’m sure came up with his own parts — and Sean Bilovecky, who was one of the 10 engineers credited working in geographic locales like Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and indeed, Palm Springs, California. At that point, is it even fair to call …Into the Exam Room a desert rock album? Therein lies the appeal. It is desert rock, and so much more.

Hermano‘s earlier work on 2002’s …Only a Suggestion (discussed here) and 2004’s Dare I Say… was straight-up desert-style songcraft, following in a tradition Garcia helped create. Though it must have been a logistical nightmare to put together, let alone to mix — I think this was the first time I interviewed Garcia; he was working as a vet tech; he mostly spoke about being a family man and was driving his family to a basketball game at the time? pretty sure that’s how it went — …Into the Exam Room blew down the doors of genre. Absolutely, songs like “Left Side Bleeding” and “Hard Working Wall,” “Adoption Boy,” the penultimate “Our Desert Home” and even opener “Kentucky” had desert rock on lockdown. No question. The push, the tonal weight, and of course Garcia‘s vocal style — yes. It was all there. But …Into the Exam Room‘s 12 tracks went so far beyond that as to make it just one more element at their disposal, to be used at moments when it might be most effective, for example, with “Left Side Bleeding” taking off at a sprint from the finish of the acoustic “Dark Horse II.” Garcia’s last crooned line in that song was, “I’m so much more,” and …Into the Exam Room was the record where he proved it.

Not just on mostly-unplugged cuts like “Dark Horse II,” “Bona Fide” or “At the Bar” — which itself appeared ahead of the mega-hook in “Our Desert Home” — but on the unmitigated heavy funk rock of “Exam Room” itself, or the loose-feeling but still tightly constructed “Out of Key, But in the Mood” or even “Don’t Call Your Mama,” with its relatively dead-ahead start and memorable chorus, which ended up reiterated by Garcia alone for the final minute as the instruments largely dropped out behind him. Through complex arrangements and nuanced sonic dhermano into the exam roometailing, these songs pushed well beyond anything Hermano had done before, and that extended even to the in-the-studio atmosphere given to the tracks by the inclusion of short intros, even just toss-off gag lines and things like that. I don’t think one would get away with including the inflected lisp at the beginning of “Our Desert Home” these days without being called out for it — at least I hope not — but whether it was the quick bit of guitar noise at the start of “Hard Working Wall,” the far-away dream vocals that begin “Dark Horse II” or the revving motor that set the album in motion in “Kentucky” and the reference to “Dueling Banjos” that ended that opener, these little moments added to the inherent diversity of the material and helped set a wide-open creative sphere in which the record took place. They gave it more personality, and in the case of “At the Bar,” the recorded child’s voice of Calliope Brown — presumably the progeny of Dandy Brown — set up the closer “Letters from Madrid” two tracks later, which featured Angstrom‘s daughter and son, Audrey Angstrom and Evan Angstrom, strumming an acoustic guitar and repeating the line, “Everyone still believes in you but you” before ending with both kids saying “I love you, daddy.” Tearjerker.

And maybe that’s what Hermano were doing on …Into the Exam Room. I recall Garcia at the time noting that the title referred to looking at one’s life, and certainly the semi-title-track “Exam Room” lived up to that — “Well you’ve got 40 more years to go drown in your tears/And the little hand’s slower than the big hand, honey” — so perhaps this work, spread from one end of the country to the other and recorded in a manner so complicated I can even pretend to have a grasp on how it happened, is Hermano with the advent of middle age, with home life. Maybe it was supposed to be a blowout. I don’t know. Whatever it was, …Into the Exam Room was a mature vision of style that legitimately did desert rock in a way it had never been done before. And it kinda flopped.

Maybe it was the wrong moment? Maybe if it came out today it would do better? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that …Into the Exam Room was the last record Hermano released — though they were playing new material three years ago, so when I say “last,” take the potential impermanence of that into consideration — and that Garcia subsequently went on to form Garcia Plays Kyuss in 2010, which became the semi-reunion Kyuss Lives!, which in turn became Vista Chino. In some ways, I look at …Into the Exam Room like Vista Chino‘s lone 2013 album, Peace (review here, also discussed here). It was a way to move forward. Still acknowledging the past, but not necessarily dwelling in it. I thought Vista Chino had a real chance to build something new, but I think it was another case where they didn’t get the public response they wanted, so went their separate ways.

Same thing here, though the complex logistics very well could’ve also played a part. Still, Dandy Brown does solo work. Angstrom has stayed involved with Garcia on the songwriting front, Garcia dutifully delivers desert rock with his Band of Gold, and Hermano kind of disintegrated at least until their onstage reunion a few years back at Hellfest in France. Entirely possible they’re working quietly on a follow-up fourth LP, but even if they are, that doesn’t change the fact that …Into the Exam Room has languished for 12 years as a ridiculously underrated album. What should’ve been a springboard to Hermano stepping out of the shadow of Garcia‘s past in Kyuss instead became their final record. A loss for sure in terms of the potential, but listening back to¬†…Into the Exam Room more than a decade after the fact, I can’t help but feel lucky we got this record in the first place.

This one’s for Slevin. As always, I hope you enjoy.

I got unceremoniously fucked out of an audio premiere this week. Brutally. It happens all the time that PR companies and record labels decide to do streams with a bigger outlet, and hey, I get it. They’re getting paid to get shit in front of as many eyes as possible, and just because I might write some hyper-wordy piece about how crucial a band’s work is doesn’t mean I have the same reach as Revolver or Kerrang or whoever. I get it. I’ve been involved one shape or another in the music industry for 15 years. People have dumb hair and wear t-shirts, but at the end of the day, it’s a business. Not personal.

Usually I let it go. This is a low-stakes thing. We’re not solving climate change here. This one hurt though primarily because of the people involved, and because it was something that had been committed to me that was when taken away for ostensibly a bigger outlet (I’m not even sure that it is, but I’m not going to name names, and obviously it was neither of the mags above). I was set to go, and after arranging it like a month ago, this week it got pulled. It’s one of the year’s best records, from band I’ve been writing about for seven years, on a label I’ve been covering voraciously since before this site started 10 years ago, and yeah, I just got straight-up fucked over. As I said, brutal.

That, combined with ongoing tooth pain, kind of colored my week in a distinct hue of “everybody fuck off.” I went saw the Deep Space Nine documentary with The Patient Mrs. on Monday in an opiate fog of leftover percocet from some medical procedure or other, and was still holding my aching head in my hands by the end. I finally got to the dentist on Tuesday afternoon and they indeed found an infection that had spread to multiple teeth and decided I needed an emergency root canal as well as antibiotics. Super duper. So they numbed me up and let me sit there and wait 45 minutes before starting the procedure — dentist had two patients with the same appointment and was next door fitting a crown, as I could hear through an open doorway — then came back, found I wasn’t numb enough when they started digging through my tooth and it was excruciating. Another three shots of novocaine, the last two right in the nerve, which hurt. Significantly.

Eventually I was numb enough that I couldn’t feel the dentist scraping the nerve out of my tooth. He left it open so the infection could drain — yup, gave me a big ol’ hole-in-the-tooth; still got it — and I have to go back Monday so they can finish the procedure. I fainted at the counter making my next appointment. Fell over and everything. Ker-plunk. They put me on the couch and gave me one of those little plastic rinse cups of water. I felt old, and sad, and alone.

So yeah. My mouth still hurts, though nowhere near the constant infected throb it was last weekend. Just enough to still be there.

Here’s what’s up for next week:

MON 05/20 WOLF PRAYER VID PREMIERE; KANDODO3 TRACK PREMIERE/REVIEW
TUE 05/21 VALLEY OF THE SUN REVIEW
WED 05/22 ABRAHMA FULL ALBUM STREAM
WED 05/22 TOUR ANNOUNCE; SLEEP LIVE RECORD REVIEW
FRI 05/24 SLOUGH FEG PREMIERE/REVIEW (MAYBE)

That Slough Feg is going to happen, it’s just a question of whether it happens next Friday or some other time. The rest is pretty much locked in, as much as anything. Subject to change blah blah, as usual.

The process of moving south back to New Jersey has begun as The Patient Mrs. and I have started packing. Home Depot moving boxes haven’t changed much in the last half-decade, it seems. Old t-shirts and stuff go first, I guess. I’ll do records sooner or later. I’d prefer sooner, just to get it done, but who the hell knows. It’s going to be a long, busy summer on the I-95 corridor, I think. Good thing I’m not doing anything crazy like flying to Ireland next week.

Oh wait.

Yeah, that’s happening. The Patient Mrs., in one of her final acts as full-time faculty for Bridgewater State University, here in not-at-all-scenic Southeastern Massachusetts, is taking students on a study-abroad trip from I guess this Thursday through June 3. It’s madness, I tell you. I’m going basically to provide childcare, as I did in London last year. I don’t know how that will affect posts or whatever during travel days. I’d like to buy a throwaway cheapie 11″ laptop rather than risk traveling with this one, which is huge and has like my whole life on it, but I don’t think the money is there for such things.

Oh, and tonight’s like a going-away party The Patient Mrs. is throwing with two of her friends at our place that maybe like 30-50 people are coming to? Strangers to me, mostly. I didn’t invite anyone because I don’t have any friends in real life and I expect to be sad and then to go to sleep early without saying goodnight. Because that’s who I am. I’m the guy who faints at the counter in the dentist’s office.

Fuck it. I’m gonna premiere Kandodo3 and Slough Feg next week. Life is awesome.

Have a great and safe weekend. Please hit up the shirts and such at Dropout Merch, and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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