SONIC YOUTH – DIRTY (1992)

KYUSS – …AND THE CIRCUS LEAVES TOWN (1995)

July 11th, 1995, KYUSS released their fourth album, “…And The Circus Leaves Town,” through Elektra Records. Kyuss had blazed a trail across the rock landscape throughout the early ’90s, forging a sound that felt familiar but somehow brand new. Blending the down-tuned chug of Master Of Reality-era Black Sabbath with the intensity of My War-era Black Flag, Kyuss, like all great rock bands, was heavily influenced by their environment. The sodden grey skies and thumping grind of the Birmingham steel mills informed Black Sabbath’s earth-shattering sound. Black Flag’s sound grew out of the frenetic pace and violent sub-culture of suburban Los Angeles. Similarly, the sound of Kyuss is heavily imbued with the vast, arid landscapes of the California desert.

The band’s swansong “..And The Circus Leaves Town” didn’t receive the attention or critical acclaim of its predecessors, “Blues For The Red Sun” and “Welcome To Sky Valley,” mainly due to the fact the band dissolved three months after its release which left their record company Elektra unwilling to promote the album. This lack of enthusiasm and promotion may have coloured opinions on the merits of the music within, but within the canon of Kyuss’ breathtaking back catalogue, “..And The Circus Leaves Town” should be valued as much as their previous efforts.

By the time Kyuss had entered Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, to begin recording the follow-up to “Welcome To Sky Valley,” founding member Brant Bjork had already left the band the previous year. His replacement was Alfredo Hernández of desert rock legends Yawning Man. The album’s creation was fraught with tension. Vocalist John Garcia would call Circus “a horrible fucking record to make” and say that “Josh and I were clashing all the time and had creative differences.”

In a 2009 interview, Scott Reeder confirmed the strained atmosphere: “While recording Circus, so much money was thrown out the window. We were in one of the most expensive studios in Hollywood just to record overdubs. People running around to get you food, cigarettes, anything you wanted. We could’ve recorded in a smaller place with a couple of good microphone preamps and got the mix done in the expensive place, and we would’ve all walked away with a bunch of money, but instead, it just got blown. There was also a bit of bickering, and I was pretty stressed. Too many weird vibes. It wasn’t the way things are supposed to be.”

Compared to previous albums, the band’s approach differed slightly on “..And The Circus Leaves Town.” The songs feel paired down and more direct. While Kyuss’ music has always been at its best when given room to expand and sprawl, the shorter, tighter arrangements give the album a feeling of immediacy. This approach wasn’t an entirely new concept for Kyuss; songs like “Allen Wrench” and “100°” from “Welcome To Sky Valley” were short, sharp shocks, but they sat among gargantuan desert rock jams, in the context of those albums, the short songs acted as palate cleansers on the way to the next epic, on “…And The Circus Leaves Town”, their embrace of tighter forms and shorter song times outweigh the extended interstellar jams.

Whether this was predetermined or an unspoken, natural progression is unclear. After the vast scope of the previous albums, exploring a more concise approach is intriguing. The album opens with “Hurricane” and immediately introduces new drummer Alfredo Hernández’s pummelling beats before the band falls in. At a slender two minutes forty-two seconds long, they waste no time on frivolities.

“One Inch Man” is classic Kyuss. Josh Homme’s guitar initiates a fuzzed-out, monolithic groove as Alfredo Hernández and Scott Reeder row in behind with a pulverising, sledge-hammer swing. John Garcia is in fine voice throughout, his distinctive tone cutting like a blade through murky blasts and down-tuned riffs. “One Inch Man” was the only single released from the album and has become a Kyuss classic.

Instrumental “Thee Ol’ Boozeroony” bounces and grinds like all great Kyuss instrumentals. The band’s ability to deliver engaging instrumental songs always seemed effortless. While being a short affair at just shy of three minutes long, it packs a savage punch. It’s worth noting that at this point, three songs into “..And The Circus Leaves Town,” we’re at less than ten minutes run time. Whereas the previous album, “Welcome To Sky Valley’s”, first three songs ran for over eighteen minutes.

“Gloria Lewis” is all tribal beats and colossal down-tuned guitars. It’s hypnotically infectious. John Garcia’s tormented protagonist shifts between a dreamy, spaced-out falsetto and a manic roar. Hernández’s heavy drum patterns support the mammoth weight of Reeder and Homme’s guttural, punctated bass and guitar riffs.

“Phototropic” shimmers like the rising heat off the desert floor. Homme’s vibe-soaked guitar glistens against a hazy glimmer of bass and drums. The blissed, languid feeling intensifies as Homme introduces a thicker, molten guitar tone, setting the scene for Garcia’s vocal. Sounding as if he’s singing from the womb-like tomb of a sensory deprivation tank, Garcia’s vocal is gorgeously engaging and magnetic. Set deep into the mix, his sharp, distinct tone cuts like a knife through the thick crust of instrumentation.

“El Rodeo” opens with Homme’s guitar. Reeder’s sliding bass underpins his snaking riff. Once Hernández joins in, the song resembles a drunken Mariachi band or something Primus song or even Tom Waits might have dreamed up. It soon returns to familiar Kyuss territory of glacial riffs and pounding rhythms.

The instrumental “Jumbo Blimp Jumbo” follows. Its clawing wah and surging power chords are epic in scale. The song bares its teeth with a cascading waterfall of stabbing guitar motifs riding a wave of driving bass and drums. “Tangy Zizzle” is a short and powerful head-down romp; it rolls with blistering intent and a drive unique to the Kyuss DNA.

The desert blues of “Size Queen” offer clues to the sound Homme would explore later with Queens Of The Stone Age. It displays the type of “upside-down” riff that would become a staple of the QOTSA sound. Its chorus section explodes into shards of kaleidoscopic distorted guitar before returning to the tight syncopated blues of the verse.

The band faithfully tackles “Catamaran” by desert rock legends Yawning Man, the previous band of new drummer Alfredo Hernández. Its beautiful verses perfectly reflect the vast open expanse of desert life. Reeder’s bass is stunningly funky, compact and in the pocket. Garcia drifts and weaves through the verse with breathy ease before attacking the chorus with his usual vigour.

The final listed track on the album is the eleven-minute “Spaceship Landing.” It’s a monstrous slab of stoner riff rock that embodies the Kyuss of old—ditching the tight, short song structures in favour of pulsating, extended, spaced-out jams and monolithic riffs. Garcia maniacally sings, “Oh yeah, you’re a fucked up man / With a fucked up plan.” At the six-minute mark, Garcia and Homme are left alone. Homme’s dry-as-a-bone guitar plays an off-kilter, oddly timed, sputtering chord sequence underneath Garcia’s blissed-out musings before the song builds toward an epic outro.

After four minutes of silence, we hear the first of two hidden tracks. “M’deea” isn’t so much a song; it’s more like a short stab of studio mumbo jumbo. Over ten minutes more silence follows before we get to “Day One.” The song was initially released in Germany as part of the extended CD single for “Demon Cleaner” from Welcome To Sky Valley. The song’s full title is “Day One (To Dave and Krist)”—dedicated to the remaining members of Nirvana, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, after Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

It’s a gorgeously mournful song with a fitting lyric, “Don’t be sad for what will never be / Be glad you didn’t have to see / This time became a part of me / And now this burning memory / The sun will break the night till dawn / And then we’ll tell some tales again / And when the time has come and gone / The wind will carry on and on.”

After the album’s release, Kyuss split. Homme joined the Screaming Trees for a two-year stint as guitarist before starting the hugely successful Queens Of The Stone Age. John Garcia would pump out excellent solo albums and stellar work with bands like Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, and Vista Chino. Scott Reeder re-joined The Obsessed, released a solo album and albums with the Sun Sail Club. He has also produced many albums for acts like Sunn (((O, Orange Goblin, Karma To Burn, and many more. Alfredo Hernández went on to join Homme in the first iteration of Queens Of The Stone Age.

The aptly titled “…And The Circus Leaves Town” was the closing chapter on one of the ’90s most influential bands. Kyuss was beloved by every facet of the alternative rock and metal fanbase, their shows were a cross-section of music fans from disparate, far-reaching corners of the rock music universe. Dave Grohl once explained his first encounter with the Kyuss sound: “I saw Kyuss play in a small club in Seattle in 1992, and they were unlike any band I had ever seen. They blew my fucking mind. I was going to record stores, buying their albums to give to people. ‘Oh, you never heard of Kyuss? Here, let me buy you this record.”

Kyuss was a very ’90s proposition. They were stubbornly individual yet understood and respected what came before. Blending the heft of ’70s rock and metal with the aggression of ’80s hardcore and punk, Kyuss filtered their influences into a stunning soundscape that fit perfectly with the zeitgeist of the time. “… And The Circus Leaves Town” is a fitting epitaph to a unique and much-loved band. While they never reached the commercial highs of their contemporaries, and in many ways been over shadowed by the success of Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age, their influence continues to have a profound and far-reaching effect on the rock world.

Essential…!