Album Review: VISTA CHINO Peace
With no intended disrespect toward the other members, I don't think it's too controversial to claim that Josh Homme was always Kyuss' ace in the hole. The fact that Homme knew it all too well effectively ended the band just when they were starting to gain recognition; according to Brank Bjork,
In 1992 Josh discovered publishing, which is the financial revenue stream for songwriting. After that, he wanted to write all the songs. As a drummer I couldn't make him play my songs… So I left the band… Two-and-a-half years later, Josh would break up the band after John confronted him about the same thing; his need to control the band for personal gain.
Nonetheless, when the Homme-less remnants of the band began touring under the name Kyuss Lives! in 2010, for many fans it was more of a "what if?" moment than a dyed-in-the-wool, true comeback… almost like Led Zeppelin getting back together with someone other than Jimmy Page on guitar. Providence – or rather, Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri's mid-game replacement, Scott Reeder – would eventually intervene and make such comparisons null and void, as the remaining quartet is no longer legally allowed to employ the name Kyuss Lives!
Oh well, you can just rename yourself Green Machine or Demon Cleaner and everyone will know, right? Nope and nope. How about Vista Chino instead? Now, if that is a reference to some arcane Kyuss lyric I have yet to drum it up, but a rose by any other name… is still basically Kyuss.
If, like me, you thought the idea of a reunion sans Homme and Reeder – and only intermittently featuring Nick Oliveri, who's become a one-man turnstile in the band – was kind of half-assed and pointless, you're liable to be a little stunned by what the quartet have put together for their debut album under the rebrand, Peace. A few notable moments aside, Peace is where you figure Kyuss would have eventually ended up when they got tired of creating spacier, more drawn out songs and decided to get back to basics. Kind of a no frills ying to Homme's Queens of the Stone Age yang.
"Dargona Dragona" bypasses all of Homme's latter day flirtations with farflung strands of blues rock and 70's metal and zeroes straight in on that Blues for the Red Sun template, shedding aggro-fuzz riffs like a dog with mange… we're instantly transported back to an era where it was just these guys and Fu Manchu and it was still desert, not stoner, rock. The other previously leaked single, "Barcelonian", features a more melodic, string-bending guitar line that is the most Queens-like thing on the album, deceptively so if it's the only thing you've heard so far.
Brant Bjork's ace drumming pretty much steals the show from "Sweet Remain" onward; there's a compressed, small room touch to the album's production which seems to benefit Bjork's kit the most… you can almost envision the dude hammering away at the skins in a basement with faux wood paneling while a modest crowd of beer-swilling yokels do a few 12 oz curls and nod along approvingly. If a drum solo is in the works for the live show it surely belongs sandwiched between "Sweet Remain" and it's album follow up, "As You Wish".
In spite of the overall stripped down approach, Vista Chino do prove that they can still throw down the heavy duty space jams in two specific instances, both coming at what would (presumably) be the last song on each side of the vinyl or cassette: "Planets 1 & 2" is the more restrained of the two, sticking with a fairly conventional songwriting framework but going all Jam Room in the middle. The finale, "Acidize/The Gambling Moose" is – like the title suggests – a multi-part suite, the first half settling into the first real chill out segment of the album, crooning vocals and jazzy licks providing counterpoint to Bjork's unflappable drumming. The back nine ("The Gambling Moose") ends the album on an extended boogie note, more Hooker & Heat than Jam Room this time.
It's pretty much a given that cats are gonna want to take sides, some claiming that Peace is merely QOTSA-lite while others insisting that Vista Chino are the better band for their sense of focus, but this is hardly an either/or proposition here: the truth is that both acts are at the top of their game right now, and for former naysayers like me who'd written Kyuss Lives! off as mere legacy act cashing in on former glory, it's time to eat a bit of crow and acknowledge that Peace is the best work any of these guys have done since the mothership crash landed back in '95. Bravo, gentlemen.