Vista Chino, Peace: The Desert was Our Home

Vista Chino has been a curious proposition from the start. As far as reunions go, I think even the members of Vista Chino would have to admit the circumstances that have led to their studio full-length debut, Peace (Napalm Records) have been convoluted and probably far less than ideal. What began as a Kyuss revitalization in the form of the John Garcia-fronted Garcia Plays Kyuss at the 2010 Roadburn festival and gradually morphed into tours with former Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri (also Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator) and drummer Brant Bjork (also Brant Bjork and the Bros., Che) with guitarist Bruno Fevery under the moniker Kyuss Lives!, Vista Chino wound up becoming Vista Chino as a result of a lawsuit that had former Kyuss guitarist Joshua Homme (who went on to bone fide rock stardom in Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist Scott Reeder as its plaintiffs. In this context, it’s just as easy to read the album title Peace as a desperate plea as a relieved exhale. Perhaps it’s both. Whatever the case, this multi-tiered clusterfuck born out of the original reunion spearheaded by Garcia, initially on his own with members of European acts (including the Belgian-born Fevery), has led to new band Vista Chino Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri (who plays on the album but has been replaced live by C.O.C. bassist Mike Dean) and Bjork — making their first record as the inheritors of the Kyuss legacy, which presented in the massive influence of the three studio albums after their 1991 Wretch debut — Blues for the Red Sun (1992), Welcome to Sky Valley (officially a self-titled; 1994), and the ominously-titled …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995) — is indisputably the largest in the genre of desert rock. This is no small challenge, but whatever else Peace is able to accomplish over the course of its 49 minutes and 10 tracks split just about evenly time-wise to allow for vinyl sides, it maintains an element of consciousness throughout of the context in which it arrives. Then it sidesteps it and rocks out with abandon.

However a Kyuss reunion might’ve played out in a perfect world, Vista Chino, who recorded Peace at Thunder Underground in Palm Springs, handled the task before them the only way they could; they wrote a collection of honest songs that didn’t outwardly try to recapture what Kyuss was in its heyday, but invariably showed flashes of that owing to the involvement of Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri and the effect that being in Kyuss has had on their lives, better and worse. Perhaps most pivotal to the album’s ultimate success, nobody throughout Vista Chino‘s debut is doing an impression either of Homme‘s tone or his songwriting methodology. If anything, the name change brought on by legal mandate has allowed the group to begin the establishment of a new musical identity, and though Fevery‘s tone is rife with desert-styled fuzz, his manner of play particularly in the leads here and his handling of the riffs throughout is his own. Maybe that new identity wasn’t what Vista Chino were looking to do when they started out as Kyuss Lives!, but it’s where they ended up all the same. The closest Vista Chino comes to directly referencing Kyuss on Peace is probably in the central riff of “Planets 1 & 2,” which seems to be nodding at “Green Machine” from Blues for the Red Sun — but even there, the band finds personality of its own as Bjork steps in to share vocal duties with Garcia, something that, though he contributed to the songwriting all along while he was in Kyuss (he left prior to the last album), he never did before. Likewise, songs like “As You Wish” and the sweetly open-spaced “Barcelonian” showcase a laid back heft that, though Kyuss touched on at times and one could easily argue had a hand in pioneering, is more mature in its presentation and sense of purpose than the members of Vista Chino could’ve been at a younger age. The inevitable tradeoff is that it’s not new anymore and that Vista Chino inherently cannot instantly show up and invent desert rock the way Kyuss is often credited with doing (of course the reality is more complex than the narrative; see also “Black Sabbath invented heavy metal”). It’s already been done.

How do you, in putting tracks together, ignore that and proceed to make a record? I don’t know. And I don’t know what the division of songwriting labor on Peace was between Bjork, Garcia, Fevery and Oliveri, how much of the album was written separately as opposed to together in a rehearsal space or in the studio, but at some point, these players stopped looking back at what Kyuss was able to spearhead and started looking forward at what Vista Chino might be able to do to make a mark on the form. That could be something as simple as the jam from which the shuffle of the later “Dark and Lovely” resulted, maybe. What matters is, it happened, and however a given listener might feel about the circumstances by which Vista Chino became Vista Chino, it’s to the ultimate benefit of Peace that they did. To call these Kyuss songs would be to set a standard in the mind of anyone hearing them with a clue as to who Kyuss was that they invariably couldn’t meet. Peace probably wouldn’t work as a fifth Kyuss outing. As the first Vista Chino, it not only affirms the relevance in the craft and performance of the band, but it gives them a starting point from which they can expand on subsequent outings should they choose to do so, free of the restraints that an idea of “what Kyuss should sound like” might otherwise place on them. Had Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork started out under the new name, it wouldn’t even be a matter of discussion. It’s fascinating to think of that as the feedback intro “Good Morning Wasteland” gives way to the driving “Dargona Dragona,” which is Peace‘s first impression on the listener. An album that only gets stronger and more complex as it plays out, “Dargona Dragona” provides Peace a mostly straightforward beginning, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork starting out instrumentally before Garcia joins on vocals. When he does, his voice is more blown-out sounding than anywhere else on the record, presented with a kind of compression that cuts through the otherwise natural-sounding tones for the “ooh-ahh” chorus and seems high in the mix as a result. Though on the subsequent “Sweet Remain,” he pushes his range to what seems like as high and as guttural as it will go, on “Dargona Dragona,” the vocals are almost abrasive, even as the swirl and richness of fuzz the rest of the band creates is just beginning to establish itself.

That can, for the first several listens, be off-putting — or at very least, off-throwing; which may well have been Vista Chino‘s intent — but it’s easy enough to get used to, and both the verses and chorus are memorable enough that the quality of track outshines any puzzling aspects of its presentation. The aforementioned “Sweet Remain” follows with Bjork setting the beat on drums as Fevery joins with a layered riff and winding lead while Oliveri rumbles with characteristic and creative fills underneath and Garcia recounts through the chorus lyrics what reads like a direct reference to the band’s legal struggles — “And they lost their souls/When they lost their way/Yeah, we fight to the bone/But the spirit remains” (or thereabouts). After work in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and guest spots on countless other bands’ albums across the world, John Garcia sounds perhaps most at home in these songs as he has since Kyuss‘ initial run (though I’ll gladly champion his performances in the other acts noted as well). On “Sweet Remain,” he bleeds, and after a bouncing, gleefully insistent instrumental stretch, returns to ask, “And I wonder/Who’s fooling who/And I wonder/Who’s fooling you.” If nothing else, we glean that the sundry dramas surrounding the band are present on the minds of Vista Chino, and it was arguably much the same on Queens of the Stone Age‘s …Like Clockwork (review here) when it was released earlier this year. So be it. Following, “As You Wish” sticks to a similar lyrical thematic — the opening lines “Rise from ash/The phoenix comes” — but resides in a less hurried instrumental sphere, the bass prominent amid buzzsaw guitar and Bjork‘s drumming, which is subtly creative and periodically the glue holding the jams of Peace together. On a general level, “As You Wish” is more indicative of the spirit of Peace overall, laid back, heavy, ultra-grooved and jammed-feeling but given to moments of propulsive riffing, topped with Garcia’s inimitable vocals. Most immediate, it makes a fitting lead-in for “Planets 1 & 2,” which not only is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Peace but also, for Bjork taking the fore vocally, one of the stretches in which Vista Chino most carves out its own personality, separate from the legacy of Kyuss.

As its title might indicate, “Planets 1 & 2” is essentially divided into two pieces, the first the far-off chugging groove that reinterprets the progression of “Green Machine” fronted by Bjork and the second propelled by a bigger, undulating riff on which Garcia takes over vocals. Both parties are continuing to work through the issues presented on the earlier tracks, but the riff that makes up most of the second part of the song serves as an apex for the first half and makes for one of Peace‘s landmark grooves, finding later mirror in closer “Acidize/The Gambling Moose,” Fevery pumping out layers of attitude-soaked leak work. The guitar provides a leading and similarly standout performance over the steadily building course of “Adara” at the end of side A, leading with a simple progression backed by percussion and a steady stream of drum fills that might’ve appeared in a slower form on one of Bjork‘s solo outings while Garcia returns to a more distorted vocal sound that’s vaguely of a kind with “Dargona Dragona,” but coming from deeper in the mix and offset by sweeter, more subdued lines that follow, “Adara” luring the listener to quiet hypnosis that picks up a little at the very end, but mostly seems content to finish soft, which is all the better a transition in a linear format (digital or CD) into the jamming interlude “Mas Vino,” a quiet, nestling groove that — had they wanted — Vista Chino probably could’ve continued to ride for another 10 or 15 minutes in the studio. Bjork starts “Dark and Lovely” with a fill that opens to a shuffling boogie Fevery soon tops with welcome leads to transition to a verse the drummer and Garcia share in call and response fashion. The vibe is loose, and when Garcia takes the fore on lyrics later, they seem made up on the spot — and in that, “Dark and Lovely” calls to mind some of Kyuss‘ jammier moments — but in the context of Peace and the songs around it, it works to broaden an already welcoming feel, the line, “I wanna get down” departing some of the tribulations earlier on as it echoes out in an apparent let’s-just-do-this-and-have-a-good-time mindset, given further appeal by Oliveri‘s basslines toward and past the middle, which are some of the best here, underscoring Fevery‘s leads with grace and funk in kind while Bjork‘s snare taps dance the track toward its conclusion, subtly paying off a build that if you weren’t paying attention, you could be swept up in without realizing it.

The penultimate “Barcelonian” feels more structured, but is of a similar spirit — open, wide-spaced, Garcia‘s vocals arrive with canyon-echo as he delivers the lines, “Ooh, those days of old when you slept upon the floor/Ooh, and the desert was our home” leading to the single-line chorus, “I’m thinking about what you mean to me” — and if it’s referring to the lawsuit and the issues leading to and stemming from it, it’s doing so from a different emotional vantage than “Dargona Dragona” or “As You Wish,” arriving at a rush of a finish that’s somehow soothing and all-cylinders-fired, Oliveri busting out more impressive fills while Fevery solos and Bjork beats out snare runs to make you wonder where the wash of cymbals is coming from. To finish, “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” is indeed divisible into two sections, more so even than “Planets 1 & 2,” though both play out with Garcia at the fore on vocals. “Acidize” is upbeat but not aggressive, Garcia keeping to his quieter approach, more than a whisper, way less than a shout, while the band shoots through a couple verses en route to a jam introduced by Fevery‘s wistful desert leads, intricate but not showy, while Bjork jazzes it up on his ride, Oliveri follows the guitar and Garcia tops with even dreamier lyrics. At 4:16, they pick up with the same progression to give it a heavier take, and while it’s easy to think that might be the switch between “Acidize” and “The Gambling Moose,” don’t be fooled. Following a cymbal wash after the 5:30 mark, feedback and some foreboding but quiet war-drum thuds, Fevery kicks off “The Gambling Moose” with Peace‘s most if-you-want-stoner-rock-you-got-it riff, which carries them through the remaining six-plus minutes of the song in various, morphing incarnations. The nod is immediate, the swagger righteous, and the cabaret potent enough that on an album chock full of quality riffs, this last one walks away with the title The Riff. Garcia enters a short while later with some lines about having his stash stolen, Fevery tops with a persistent lead that runs right through the verses, and if they do it anywhere, Vista Chino cap their first album by actually toying with the Kyuss legacy. Breaking to a different interpretation of the groove, harmonica arrives, and they build back to the groove from whence they came. Lyrically, it’s more about the feel of the words than the words themselves, but neither does it seem like a mistake that as the band wind down leading to the last wash of cymbals and ring out — Fevery has been soloing most of if not the whole time — the last words Garcia chooses to repeat are “my love.”

One last single hit — bomp — and they’re done.

No doubt for some listeners, the way in which this album came about and the inevitable comparisons to the now-decades-spanning Kyuss influence will be too much to overcome. That’s fair. If Garcia wanted to do a record with Oliveri and Bjork, it follows the course of many of the best reunions to make the album first, then tour playing new material and old. It didn’t happen that way with Vista Chino, and if a portion of their audience can’t overcome the circumstances around it or they think the band is a cash-grab trying to make money off touring the older material, it doesn’t really matter now. Maybe that’s the Peace the album title is referencing — that whatever else has happened to this band, these players, in the last couple years, they’ve gotten to this point where they can come together and explore the process of composing and compiling songs into an original outing. I don’t know that either. What I do know is that as a Kyuss fan who never saw the band during their original run, it seems to me that those who approach Vista Chino and Peace with that kind of dismissive mindset are, at the very least, cheating themselves out of some quality desert rock put forth by several who can claim partial responsibility for establishing the form as we know it today. It’s not Sky Valley 2, and thankfully, it’s not claiming to be, because for all of the extra bullshit surrounding its creation and release, Peace sounds unpretentious, natural, and even at its most frustrated moments, engaging. Its expectations for itself come across as completely different from those anyone outside might put on it. Most of all, it doesn’t want to argue anymore. Particularly after giving the album some time to grow on me and giving myself some time to approach it on its own level, I don’t want to argue anymore either. Peace, at last.

Vista Chino, “Barcelonian” from Peace (2013)

Vista Chino on Thee Facebooks

Napalm Records

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10 Responses to “Vista Chino, Peace: The Desert was Our Home”

  1. Matias says:

    …the desert was our “Homme”
    great record anyway

  2. Bats says:

    I might be a zealot but no one gave me stoner like Kyuss did, up until Vista Chino’s Peace came along

    I can feel de sun desert again, at last.

  3. DED says:

    I never saw Kyuss when they were together but I saw Kyuss Lives in NYC during Nov 2011. They were fantastic, flawless. I could cross it off my bucket list.

    I love three of QOTSA’s albums (Rated R, Songs for the Deaf, Lullabies to Paralyze) and the first one isn’t bad. I thought Era Vulgaris was lousy and the new one is better but falls short of the big three. But it’s clear to me after these last two albums that Homme has abandoned any notion of desert rock (or whatever label you want to slap on the old sound). He’s moved on. That’s fine. It’s his prerogative.

    I’m more than willing to give Vista Chino a chance to work that old sound, all the more so since Homme doesn’t want to play it anymore. I like this track you’re featuring here and hope it’s a sign of even greater things on the rest of the album.

  4. goAt says:

    Nick is on the thing? Righteous. I wasn’t sure about that. I don’t want to wait for this fuckin’ record, I want it NOW. It’s SUMMER for fuck sake!

  5. SubAtomicGenius says:

    I went to “John Garcia plays Kyuss” in Munich, Germany, when Brant first joined the show for a couple of sets on the drums. At the time, I could tell that there was a new chemical reaction being formed when they played that night and I’m know that I had the experience of being there when the “Kyuss Lives!” reunion concept was (re)born.

    I’m still not happy the way it all went down, however I blame the promoters, managers, lawyers and music industry in Hollywood taking over and spoiling things between Josh and Scott before I’d blame John and Brant for the whole ordeal. Most people say that the fellas were trying to sell out – but what most people don’t realize is that this is John and Brant’s livelyhood – they are supporting their family and lifestyle with their musical careers and they should have the right to become a success.

    I’m happy that the fellas stuck it together and continued on with Vista Chino. John and Brant are really excellent guys, very appreciative of their fan-base, hard working and I wish them all the best with their new album. Now go out and buy the fucking album and support the gods of desert/stoner rock!

  6. Owen says:

    They actually have 9 of the tracks on Grooveshark for anyone wanting a taste of this beast of an album.

    As for my feelings on the album… Its definetly a grower. Out of all of Garcia’s bands, it feels most like Kyuss with some more maturity and stature to it. Its very definitive. Don’t let the simplicity of Barcelonian and Dragona fool you, they’re both good songs, the rest of the album has a lot to offer in terms of expertly crafted desert/stoner rock.

    Homme shouldn’t have labeled his newest album as ‘desert rock’, he departed the genre long ago. I fucking loved his newest album and constantly play the entire album and play along on guitar….but I’ve always been a big Kyuss fan and I think Vista Chino can rightfully claim the throne of being the best current stoner rock band right now. Hopefully this album becomes successful and we can hope to see more from them in the future. I pirated Like Clockwork and didn;t feel bad about it at all. However, I will support Peace and purchase the album and I encourage other stoner rock fans to do the same.

  7. Cideburns says:

    I’m still underwhelmed by this album on a whole

    I wish Unida would record a new one. Saw Unida a few months back, and was also fortunate to meet all the band. Awesome show!

  8. Matt says:

    FTR: Nick Oliveri did NOT play bass on this record. Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity did. He’s been touring with the band, as well. However, according to Garcia, though, he’s not a permanent member of the band because of his engagement in COC.

    • I have direct word from Brant Bjork that Nick did play the bass parts on the album. Mike Dean has been touring with the band live and will most likely take part in the writing sessions for the next album, splitting his time with C.O.C.

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