John Garcia, John Garcia: The Time was Right

Over the last two-plus decades, John Garcia‘s voice has set the standard for the sound of the California desert. His work in genre-progenitors Kyuss speaks for itself — loudly, and with much fuzz — and subsequent outfits UnidaSlo BurnHermano and more guest appearances than one can count have kept his presence steady in the international underground he played an essential role in forging, and his first solo outing, John Garcia, arrives via Napalm Records following a run with the semi-Kyuss reunion outfit Vista Chino, which ultimately brought together Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork with guitarist Bruno Fevery and Corrosion of Conformity bassist Mike Dean to tour the world in support of their 2013 outing, Peace (review here), after a couple years prior on the road as Kyuss Lives!, that project born out of Garcia‘s own Garcia Plays Kyuss, which launched at the 2010 Roadburn festival. In some ways, the album John Garcia is an extension of Vista Chino, particularly in terms of Garcia‘s performance and in terms of the production. An 11-track/45-minute full-length, material was culled from years of Garcia‘s own tapes, freshly arranged by the singer with some input by Hermano guitarist Dave Angstrom, and brought to bear by producer Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, the same studio where Peace was recorded. However, since some of the source material for these songs is older, and because there are a variety of players appearing throughout, from The DoorsRobbie Krieger on acoustic-led closer “Her Bullets Energy” to Danko JonesAngstrom himself, Nick Oliveri and The Dwarves‘ Mark Diamond and Tom Brayton, there’s also no shortage of diversity in the sound.

That being the case, John Garcia ran a pretty hefty risk in the making of coming across disjointed, but the consistency in the production and of course the focus element of Garcia‘s voice tie tracks together neatly, the album opening with its biggest chorus in “My Mind,” a track that immediately casts the wide-open spaces in which the rest of the songs will take place. Those familiar with his work will hear shades of various Garcia-fronted bands throughout the album, from the Slo Burn-style rush of later cut “Saddleback” to the Vista Chino-esque bounce of “Rolling Stoned,” a cover of Canadian trio Black Mastiff which undercuts some of its laid-back vibe with the opening lyrical threat, “If you leave me, I will kill you.” Nonetheless, “Rolling Stoned” follows “My Mind” as part of a strong opening salvo that continues through “Flower” and “The Blvd” and “5,000 Miles” to proffer memorable hooks, compressed but warm tones and an engaging presence from Garcia, who departs from the post-lawsuit bitterness that comprised much of the thematic of the Vista Chino offering to tell more of a story, as on “The Blvd” or the following “5,000 Miles,” which resounds as a classic coming-home song set to a particularly effective riff, somewhat more open than the first four cuts, but still largely consistent in pace and quality. Truth be told, though the mood changes somewhat along the way, there really isn’t a point where John Garcia falls into clunker-ism. And neither should there be. This project was years in the making and even more years in the discussing, and with Garcia‘s experience in the studio and on stage, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if something wasn’t working toward the benefit of the album, it would be discarded. Over repeat listens, John Garcia begins to give that impression — not of being a confessional, exactly, in the way that some “solo albums” are, but of being carefully constructed selections chosen to represent this singer and his songwriting process.

And maybe part of the point is introducing Garcia as a primary songwriter. While he comes into John Garcia preceded by his reputation as a singer with a distinct, often imitated, never duplicated approach, he’s less known for his writing. In Kyuss, it was Brant Bjork and Josh Homme responsible for the bulk of the material (then the latter when Bjork was out), and though Garcia‘s stamp on the development of the desert rock style has been indelible in his other bands since, he’s never garnered the acclaim as a craftsman. The second half of John Garcia, introduced by the voice-over-guitar, minimally-drummed “Confusion” works in a somewhat more linear flow to countermand this. I do not know where the LP break is, but if Garcia‘s croon over the sustained distortion in the verses of “Confusion” is meant to lead into and lend drama to “His Bullets Energy,” it does so exceedingly well. Not quite a shuffle groove, but there’s an underlying urgency in “His Bullets Energy” that the track conveys through a steady nod and a memorable chorus, Garcia hanging back to ride the rhythm smoothly where the subsequent “Argleben” is more upfront, directly on the beat, both cuts well at home in their not-necessarily-aggressive weight, and “Argleback” slowing at the end to allow the next-gear boogie of “Saddleback” to the take hold in fuller contrast. Both “Saddleback” and the album’s penultimate “All These Walls” have a quicker push in common as well as standout hooks, but the latter distinguishes itself further with a midsection break topped by airy guitar that, if it’s not Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce, it’s damn close tonally. It ends with the same open progression, and John Garcia moves fluidly into its closing statement with “Her Bullets Energy” (as opposed to “His,” earlier), Garcia‘s vocals topping a fluid Spanish-style guitar and percussion arrangement that’s still full-sounding, but obviously also intended as a last-minute reflective moment only given more weight through the inclusion of Krieger. It’s hardly a summation of the rest of the album before it, but neither is it supposed to be, instead capping with some of the personal intimacy from which other songs steered clear, Garcia‘s vocals also suitably laid back over the instrumental melody. If it’s a glimpse at a variable personality that John Garcia is meant to portray, then the record succeeds in that and then some.

Yet it’s worth reiterating that John Garcia is also cohesive and engaging as a whole, full-length work. Much as these songs retain identities, those identities also reinforce the whole. It’s an album, in other words, and where solo works can often come across disjointed where a number of players are brought in for guest spots and covers are included, etc., Garcia‘s debut sets a tone of fluidity (albeit desert parched) that works greatly to the benefit of the overall listening experience. Like Vista Chino‘s Peace, it could easily serve as the foundation for new creative avenues to explore, and though his schedule remains perpetually full, hopefully Garcia will be able to pursue them in the years to come.

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9 Responses to “John Garcia, John Garcia: The Time was Right”

  1. B-Rus says:

    Ha ha ha! Why do you beat around the bush? Just SAY it – this album sucks hefty dicks! Garcia was great 20 years ago and now he isn’t.

    • That was not at all the intended point of the review.

      • Trey says:

        It wasn’t at all what I got while reading it either. Good review on a solid album. I liked it better than the release by Vista Chino.

    • Ntx says:

      Pointless statement. He sings as good or better as he did with Kyuss, in studio and live. Kyuss Lives! was a fucking storm live experience, and soon i will check that again with this band.
      You dont like the songs in the album? Fine, its your opinion, but they are undeniable well performed. IMO production is a bit crispy, maybe lacks a bit of doomnes but is good enough.

      Now go sit on the corner for the rest of the day and cry.

  2. Vince Green says:

    Garcia is a legend and this album is a great addition to his legacy. Love it. \m/

  3. Joe Margiasso says:

    I have had this album for over a month and i really cant stop listening to it..i have told othe friends in the know to def check it..Fucking nice

  4. Joe M says:

    I have had this album for over a month and i really cant stop listening to it..i have told othe friends in the know to def check it..Fucking nice!!!

  5. RatSalad says:

    No one mentions in reviews that “all these walls” is a slo burn cover (or redo/whatever you wanna call it)
    Is “confusion” one as well? That song sounds familiar but i can’t quite place it.
    Either way the album is good. Took a few listens but i’m into it.

  6. LynnValley says:

    John Garcia kicks ass! Fucking love this guy. He comes across as a really genuine and humble guy in his interview. I wish I could meet him someday. The album is solid and I dig it. Solid review.

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