Friday Full-Length: Yawning Man, Rock Formations

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

 

Consider the timing. Yawning Man formed in 1986 with guitarist Gary Arce, guitarist Mario Lalli, bassist Larry Lalli and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, and for a long time were something of a historical footnote in the development of Californian desert rock. Along with Across the River and the Lallis’ other concurrent band, Fatso Jetson, they were crucial to the development of the style, but Yawning Man were never able to reap the same kind of acclaim as some of the others from their region/local scene, in no small part because they never had a record out. They never signed to SST like Fatso Jetson, or hooked up with Elektra Records like their more accessible acolytes in Kyuss.

In fact, until 19 years after they first got together, the closest thing Yawning Man to a proper document of their sprawling jams was a series of demos that would later be collected into The Birth of Sol (discussed here), which was released on vinyl through Cobraside Distribution in 2009 and on double-cassette earlier this year through Solid 7 Records in an edition of 100 copies. Yes, I bought one. Just now. While writing this post. It’s called multitasking.

So think about that: Yawning Man went 19 years before they put out a record. And when they did? Rock Formations was ahead of its time.

Issuing through Alone Records, the instrumentalists would catch the ears of an elite few in the burgeoning milieu of internet message boards, but what Rock Formations communicates even 13 years after its first release in 2005 is a sense of pastoral spaciousness. In Arce‘s signature guitar tone — which, not to take away from Mario Lalli‘s bass or Hernandez‘s drumming, which are of course essential to the proceedings — Yawning Man finds its center and emanates outward from there across 10 songs and 43 minutes that aren’t inactive, but seem to resonate a stillness all the same. It remains a gorgeous record.

But it’s not aggressive. And for a heavy underground who knew Yawning Man largely through the Kyuss cover of “Catamaran” — a song Yawning Man wrote but wouldn’t actually put on an album until 2018’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises (review here) — it was an unexpected turn of aesthetic despite ultimately being true to the band’s style, which has never been outwardly angry. Even in the more forward low end of “Advanced Darkness” or the surge in the final minute of “Stoney Lonesome,” which is the longest track at 6:03, Rock Formations holds to a laid back vibe that might have punk roots, but certainly draws from other sources as well.

In 2010, during an interview to talk about that year’s follow-up to Rock Formations, the still-excellent Nomadic Pursuits (review here), I somewhat sheepishly came right out and asked Arce about the development of his guitar tone. yawning man rock formationsCouldn’t help myself. He was kind enough not to call me a dunce and gave a somewhat unexpected answer about his early inspirations:

I’m really into Bauhaus. Seriously. I grew up in the early ‘80s, listening to bands like Bauhaus and I’ve always loved the way that band has their thing, so I’ve always modeled my sound after them. I don’t know if you can hear it. The guitar player is Daniel Ash who later formed Love and Rockets. That guy’s an awesome guitar player, and he’s always had this tone that I’ve loved since I was a kid. When I finally got a guitar, I experimented around a lot with different effects and pedals, and I came near to what he does. I don’t want to sound just like him (laughs), but that’s one of my biggest influences, actually, is Bauhaus… If you listen to Yawning Man and you listen to Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult, Lords of the New Church, you’ll hear it.

Goth rock. A secondary tag for Yawning Man has always been surf because of the echo surrounding Arce‘s guitar and the general rhythmic insistence of songs like “Airport Boulevard” and “Perpetual Oyster,” both highlights of Rock Formations, but I’ve always kept that connection to Bauhaus in mind when it comes to Arce‘s work in sundry projects, and he’s right. You can hear it. It’s part of what makes Rock Formations harder to place within a style like heavy rock. And 2005 was a moment of generational shift as well. The stoner rock wave of the late ’90s and early ’00s had crested, and Yawning Man didn’t really fit with that either.

As the ensuing years and the boom of a mobilized social media landscape would expand the definition of “heavy” to encompass a range of atmospheres, Yawning Man would find their place eventually. But it took people that amount of time to catch up to them, and so in its initial release, Rock Formations was nothing if not under-appreciated. To hear it now, the Western jangle of “Split Tooth Thunder” and closer “Buffalo Chips” and the exploratory ambience of “She Scares Me” are quintessential Yawning ManNomadic Pursuits was more a right-album-right-time situation and though they’d continue having trouble getting on the road for a variety of reasons, by the time they got around to 2015’s Historical Graffiti (review here), which was recorded in South America, they were more apt to get out and tour.

Europe, as it will, has been a focal point, and to coincide with The Revolt Against Tired NoisesYawning Man headed abroad for a massive stint to promote it. One could argue the last half-decade has seen the band get some measure of the respect they’ve long deserved, but Rock Formations was still well in advance of that. Imagine if it had come out in 1995 instead. The mind boggles.

Maybe it was as early as it was late, but somehow being out of its time, standing utterly apart, suits Rock Formations. Yawning Man have never been about setting themselves to an expectation of what heavy is, and while ‘heavy’ has caught up to them in the years since, it’s always been a question of them working on their own terms. More then a decade after the fact, with Yawning Man having taken their place among the most pivotal architects of desert rock, they still are.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

So here’s how it’s gonna go. This weekend is my sister’s birthday. We’re driving down to New Jersey to see her for the occasion. Great. I like New Jersey, I like my family. It all works out. At the same time, The Patient Mrs. has some thing in Boston this morning/afternoon. We have one car.

It goes that I’ll drive with her to Boston with The Pecan in tow, then he and I will go futz around town for a bit while she does her thing — I’m planning on picking up a proper USB microphone so I don’t sound like complete ass (at least in terms of sound quality) during Gimme Radio voice breaks — then go back and pick her up. The drive to Boston can be about 90 minutes in the morning. Any time of day, it is viscerally unpleasant.

After that, we’re supposed to go drive to Connecticut for the night to split up the ride between Massachusetts and New Jersey. We’re not packed. I have no idea what time it will be by then, but I know that the baby — who’s 1 now; Mr. Bigshot Pecan climbing the furniture — will have already been in the car for at least two hours. Then it’s two more from Boston to CT, at least, depending on how long it takes to get out of town, traffic on I-95 or the Masspike, etc.

We’ll end up back here tonight, then rolling down to NJ directly tomorrow morning first thing. There’s no escaping the brutality either way. Then Monday we’re going to hightail it back north at least to Connecticut because The Patient Mrs. has work back here in MA at some point whenever. That’s at least a three-‘u’ fuuuck.

One more thing that, were I 20-25 years old, wouldn’t be a problem. Now? I can’t make it through Rhode Island without falling asleep at the wheel.

This, basically to spend one day in New Jersey. I’m not even sure it’ll be a full 24 hours. One overnight. Woof.

Next Friday, when I’m bitching about how tired I’ve been all week, please someone remind me why. Also feel free to call me fat and tell me I’m a shitty parent. I’ll hear it either way.

Then buy a t-shirt. Thanks.

Here are the notes for next week, subject to change without prior notice:

Mon.: Little Jimi review/stream; maybe that new Greenleaf video.
Tue.: Godmaker/Somnuri split review; Yatra track premiere; Juniper Grave video premiere.
Wed.: Sundecay review/track premiere.
Thu.: Goliathan review/album stream.
Fri.: Arcadian Child review/track premiere.

Wherever possible and in situations where I’m cool enough to do so as deemed by labels, PR, management and the bands themselves — sundry gatekeepers — I’ve been trying to line up reviews and premieres. Gives people a little something more to dig into than my endless fucking blathering. It’s better when there’s a song there at the top of the post. Makes it more exciting for me too.

It’s not all premieres, but I’ve got reviews booked from now through the second week of December. Nothing like thinking ahead.

Pop pop pop. — That’s my brain in my skull.

Okay.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Thanks for reading. Tattoo it on my forearm. Thanks for reading.

Great and safe weekend. Forum and radio.

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