Valley of the Sun, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk: The Message

The central question that emerged from Valley of the Sun‘s 2011 second EP, The Sayings of the Seers (review here), was whether or not the Cincinnati three-piece could maintain the level of energy, of sonic movement, of professionalism in songwriting and production over the course of a full-length album and still offer enough variety to keep tracks from sounding redundant. Their cumbersomely-titled debut long-player, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk, released through Fuzzorama Records — the imprint helmed by former and once again Valley of the Sun tourmates Truckfighters — answers that question with a simple yes. Yes, they can. And they do. After a successful crowdfunding campaign and an initial vinyl pressing for contributors, the trio show on the 10-track/44-minute outing that the support they received coming off of The Sayings of the Seers was not misplaced, and that the crisp, cognizant and engaging presentation of that outing would serve as the foundation of an even bigger assemblage of ideas this time around. Recorded, mixed and mastered by John Naclerio (who also helmed the EP) at Nada Studios in New York, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk is slick in its layers but expertly handled to craft a sense of space that guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier, bassist Ryan McAllister (who also handled the cover art and layout) and drummer Aaron Boyer work within throughout the songs. In its front-to-back flow and its individual pieces, it is as smooth and balanced an execution of heavy rock as you’re likely to hear. Valley of the Sun come across as tasteful but edgy, produced but natural and in cuts like “As Earth and Moon,” “Nomads,” “The Message is Get Down,” and “Centaur Rodeo,” they offer memorable, classy hooks that long outlast the album’s runtime.

Opener “Worn Teeth” begins at a half-echo blues before unfurling its full crunching breadth, but the central ideas around which Valley of the Sun seem to work are still based in desert rock. Kyuss are a central influence, and Ferrier seems to shift skillfully between the inflections of John Garcia and peak-era Chris Cornell — yes, that is a compliment — but both through their being a Midwestern act and via what seems to be their own creative will, Valley of the Sun present familiar riffing methods with their own take. Heads will find much recognizable as the easy roll of “Worn Teeth” kicks into the full-run of “As Earth and Moon,” but the momentum they build and the flow of Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk delivers more than desert affectations. McAllister also shares a tenure in the rhythm section of Kentucky’s Moonbow with Hermano drummer Steve Earle, and some of Hermano‘s …Into the Exam Room seems to serve as a guide for how Valley of the Sun‘s debut plays out, whether it’s the funk-swinging starts and stops of “The Message is Get Down” or the push-to-apex groove of the penultimate “Gunslinger.” “The Sleeping Sand” would seem to pay shuffling homage to a desert landscape, but on side A, “Maya” and “Nomads” seem less geographically loyal, the former showing early richness in the bass while Ferrier‘s vocal clarity steps forward in the chorus as a defining element of the album. Like a lot of the record, the structure of “Maya” is straightforward, but as various layers of guitar rise up and drop out, as Boyer‘s thudding toms poke through the mix en route to the last chorus, there’s more than enough to keep the audience hooked for the duration of the two sides into which Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk is very much broken, the first ending with the two-minute acoustic “Laser Vision Intermission,” and the second starting with the fade-in rush of “Within the Glare.”

That break is essential to how one approaches Valley of the Sun‘s debut. On vinyl, the five songs on side B — “Within the Glare,” “The Message is Get Down,” “The Sleeping Sand,” “Gunslinger” and “Centaur Rodeo” — stand alone from their side A counterparts, and with five tracks as opposed to side A’s four-plus-interlude, the second “half” of Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk is the longer. That doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re getting up to flip a 12″ record over, but on a linear format like CD or mp3, it’s much easier to be lulled by the hypnotic calmness of “Laser Vision Intermission” and the seamlessness of its transition into “Within the Glare” such that it’s up to “The Message is Get Down” to snap you back to consciousness. It’s a task for which that song is more than ably suited with Ferrier‘s most Garcia-esque moment in the chorus and a House of Broken Promises-style riff that borders on cock rock or at very least calls to mind a video scenario of much spilled booze and thick-thighed-rocker-chick debauchery, and if “Within the Glare” was filler, then fine, no big deal, but if you can catch it without falling into the trance of “Laser Vision Intermission,” it’s actually worth hearing. Their making it so easy to miss isn’t enough for me to want to cry misstep, just something that comes across on repeat listens that the listener may want to beware. All hovering on either side of four minutes, “The Message is Get Down,” “The Sleeping Sand” and “Gunslinger” vary in pace from middling to faster, and sandwiched by “Within the Glare” (5:32) and closer “Centaur Rodeo” (6:04), demonstrate the kind of movement Valley of the Sun are able to convey within their material. Particularly “The Sleeping Sand” acts as a kind of centerpiece for the second half of Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk, Ferrier‘s higher-register “ah-hoo” transitions giving a foreshadow of what’s to come in the resonant thrust of the finale.

“Centaur Rodeo” pays back that promise in sing-along-ready “oohs” from Ferrier that top one of the album’s most successful builds, rounding out Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk with affirmation of Valley of the Sun‘s skillful craft and the palpable sense that these songs were worked on, hammered out, that they didn’t just “happen” the way some purport their verses and choruses to have materialized as though without human intervention at all. That’s not to call the tracks inorganic, just to say that Valley of the Sun are tapping into a songwriting tradition that feels conscious of the listener. That side A should wind up with such a different personality than side B, being not only shorter (only by three minutes or so), but with space dedicated to the intro portion of “Worn Teeth” and then to the break of “Laser Vision Intermission” while side B plays out as a solid block of songs results in a somewhat imbalanced feel, but it does not seem like a challenge beyond Valley of the Sun‘s grasp nor a factor that stops their first outing from being an exciting listen. They have not remade the genre in which they reside, and I’m not sure that they’ve tried to, though the professional-grade production almost sets one up with those expectations — it is at times too easy to forget this is the band’s first LP — but both in giving fresh presentation to familiar elements and in continuing to carve out Valley of the Sun‘s place sound-wise and furthering their songwriting, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk is as encouraging for their future as it is gratifying in itself. Like its title, the album sounds cool, and it’s hard to argue with that as a primary concern.

Valley of the Sun, “Gunslinger” from Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (2014)

Valley of the Sun on Thee Facebooks

Fuzzorama Records

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One Response to “Valley of the Sun, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk: The Message”

  1. Oskar says:

    The super awesome powertrioValley of the sun’s debutalbum!




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