SONIC YOUTH – DIRTY (1992)

KYUSS – WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY (1994)

June 28th, 1994, KYUSS released their third album, Welcome To Sky Valley, through Elektra Records. With 1992’s Blues For The Red Sun, Kyuss forged a sound as dense as liquid tar. Crushing and expansive, theirs was the sound that couldn’t easily be pinned down. Containing elements of stoner rock, desert rock, Masters of Reality era Black Sabbath, My War era Black Flag and (the) Melvins’ glacial riffage, the band had filtered these influences into a unique, potent sound, all their own.

Blues For The Red Sun had put the Palm Desert quartet on the map, with fans and critics heaping acclaim on the album. Anticipation was high for 1994’s follow-up, Welcome To Sky Valley. Kyuss entered the legendary Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, in early 1993 to begin recording. Chris Goss of Masters Of Reality, who had produced Blues For The Red Sun, was on board again.

Welcome To Sky Valley was initially slated for release in January 1994. But in November 1993, the band’s record label, Chameleon Records, abruptly shut down. Elektra Records picked the band up and scheduled the album for a March 1994 release, but this date was further delayed. Eventually, the band’s new opus hit shelves in late June 1994.

Changes were in motion at the time of release, with founding member Brant Bjork leaving the band after the recording sessions’ completion. It was also the first album with bassist Scott Reeder, who replaced Nick Oliveri shortly after Blues for the Red Sun in 1992. Guitarist Josh Homme and vocalist John Garcia rounded out the lineup.

Discussing the album in 2014, John Garcia said: “I remember that it was Josh Homme’s baby. He was on a mission. He had a direct vision with this record and was very specific about what he wanted from me. I give credit where credit is due. It was the last record where I saw Josh and Brant Bjork work together. Those two, collectively, as a creative team, were something else if they put aside their differences and worked together. When it was great, I’d be looking from the outside like, ‘Holy fuck, just show me. Tell me where you want me to go, and I’ll be there.”

The band wastes no time hitting their stride. The opening track, “Gardenia.” is as heavy as a planet-sized meteor. Josh Homme’s gargantuan, down-tuned guitar eats up all around it like a relentless black hole. Brant Bjork and Scott Reeder’s interplay is magic. The addition of Reeder’s liquid, driving bass playing, is immediately evident in the extended jam during the song’s breakdown.

The instrumental track “Asteroid” begins with a clean guitar. The band then pummels the downbeat with a massive, jolting riff that eventually descends into feedback, giving way to the return of the intro riff, rinse and repeat. The mammoth weight of the band’s attack is devastating and displays their considerable skills as masters of dynamics.

“Supa Scoopa And Mighty Scoop” starts with Homme and Garcia trading vocal and guitar licks. Bjork and Reeder join the fray, imbuing the track with an intense desert swing and colossal groove. There are echos of Paranoid/Masters Of Reality era Black Sabbath, but rather than the imposing, grey industrial skyline of Birmingham, England, that seeped so profoundly into Sabbath’s sound, the dust and heat of the California desert is ingrained in the Kyuss’ sound.

“100°” is a short, fast, powerful blast. Immediately demanding your attention from the intro, Josh Homme’s wah-drenched guitar, Brant Bjork’s ride-heavy drum attack, and Scott Reeder’s in-the-pocket bass grooves run hard and deep. The midsection half-time groove is an electrifying payoff before the song burns out like a shooting star.

The acoustic beauty of “Space Cadet” is a perfect palate cleanser midway through the album. It sounds as though it was conceived around a campfire by a group of desert rats during a particularly vivid acid trip. Its interweaving guitar passages, spacey vocals, and earthy percussion lull the listener into a hypnotic trance.

“Demon Cleaner” is a gripping slice of stoner rock perfection. Garcia’s crooning vocal delivery soars above Homme’s riveting guitar and Reeder’s gargantuan bass. But Brant Bjork’s Godlike performance behind the kit steals the show. For a song so riveting, its subject matter refers to a mundane everyday activity; John Garcia explains: “Nobody knows that “Demon Cleaner” is about brushing your teeth. I didn’t write that song; Josh wrote it, and it meant something totally different to me. But when it goes, “You get the back one,” he’s talking about brushing your teeth.”

Josh Homme elaborates: “I have a tooth obsession. I’ve had everything done to my teeth that you could have done. I used to dream about teeth all the time- I’ve had nightmares about them since I was a kid, like horrible night terrors. I even went to the doctor about it, and that’s why I hate going to sleep even to this day. I still always have nightmares. So I’d have this recurring dream where I’m getting my teeth pulled out, and then I’d flash forward, and I’d be in a giant mouth with these teeth bleeding everywhere. And I’d be cleaning these giant teeth while the blood was coming down, and I’d be drowning in a sea of toothbrush foam and blood. So “Demon Cleaner” was this metaphor for, you know, you gotta keep yourself clean, you gotta keep yourself tight.”

“Odyssey” opens with Homme’s heavily flanged guitar before the band locks in, revisiting some of the same intensity as the opening track “Gardenia.” The song’s middle eight breaks into a quasi-funk jam, with Scott Reeder shredding bass licks over Homme’s Nile Rodgers meets Tony Iommi guitar stabs.

“Conan Troutman” bounces with a vengeance. It’s the shortest track on the album at just over two minutes long. Full of intent and savage percussive accents, the guttural, low-slung guitar and bass swirl like vicious undercurrents, dragging the melodies into fatal death rolls. Homme shreds a chaotic wah-drenched solo that heralds the song’s end.

“N.O.” is a cover of a song by Scott Reeder’s previous band, Across The River. Across the River was formed in the California desert in the mid-eighties. They played heavy music influenced by hardcore punk, blues, and ’70s hard rock. Their sound was highly influential on Brant Bjork and Josh Homme. Future Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernández and the brilliant Mario Lalli completed the lineup.

Kyuss tackles “N.O.” with stunning effect, giving the song a beautifully hazy atmosphere. Bjork’s drumming is tom-heavy and assured, possessing a colossal groove. Homme and Reeders’ interplay is magnetic and mesmerising, creating an enthralling mood that underpins Garcia’s measured and highly passionate vocal delivery.

“Whitewater” closes out the album at eight minutes; it’s the longest song on the album and one of its best. Garcia excels; his unmistakable voice perfectly compliments the spiralling churn of guitars, drums, and bass beneath. The song’s extended jam section is engaging and vital. Heavy, hypnotic, and catchy, this is Kyuss at their best and a fitting closure to a spectacular album.

Dave Grohl of Nirvana said in a 1993 interview that “the future of grunge music is now evolving from Palm Springs, California, by a band named Kyuss.” While that statement is hyperbole, it does display the wanton blurring of genre lines that occurred in the early ’90s. Kyuss appealed to a wide range of music enthusiasts; Metal, Stoner, Sludge, Classic Rock, and Grunge fans could all find common ground when listening to Homme, Garcia, Bjork, and Reeder pummel their senses. This was amazing rock music with a desert twist, no matter how you cut it.

Welcome To Sky Valley is a powerful statement from what some consider the great lost band of the ’90s. In many ways, their legacy has been swallowed whole by the success of Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age. Although Kyuss may be long gone, the power and influence of albums like Welcome To Sky Valley loom large over the current musical landscape.

Bassist Scott Reeder said in 2014: “The Kyuss thing was exciting. The jams were always a little different. I guess that was weird for a heavy rock band in those days. It blows me away that a few people still listen to it all these years later.”

Essential…!