The specter of Southern California rockers KYUSS still looms so large over the desert-rock and stoner-rock genres that it's easy to forget that it has been over twenty years since the seminal act called it a day after 1995's "...And The Circus Leaves Town". The two decades since saw guitarist Josh Homme move on to major-label rock stardom with QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, while vocalist John Garcia has quietly continued flying the flag high for the rumbling sun-baked rock sound pioneered during KYUSS's early '90s heyday. Whether it be the short-lived tenures of follow-up bands UNIDA and HERMANO, or solo efforts released under his own name, the formula of Garcia's soulful snarls layered over fuzzed-out, groove-laden desert riffs has remained impressively consistent in terms of quality.
For his latest effort, Garcia has reunited the core backing musicians who played on the lone departure from the above formula, "The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues", his 2017 collection of acoustic originals and acoustic KYUSS covers. On this record—titled "John Garcia and The Band of Gold"—the group steps up to the challenge of generating power and hooks worthy of joining Garcia's expansive discography of catchy fuzz-rockers. A mix of bass lines drenched with feedback and chill desert guitar tones is the initial grouping of sounds heard with opening instrumental track "Space Vato", before it morphs into a hard-hitting headbanger with a rhythm reminiscent of BLACK SABBATH's "Children of the Grave". The comedown from the barrage is quick, reverting to the slower open. Every band that Garcia has fronted—KYUSS and after—has expertly balanced the mood swings that evoke the best aspects of this sub-genre, which is reinforced with subsequent tracks here, all of them relatively short rockers.
The first track featuring Garcia's signature vocals, "Jim's Whiskers", is a groove-laden stomper, the first half of which is anchored by bassist Mike Pygmie (MONDO GENERATOR), who immediately locks into a hypnotic rumbling groove. Pygmie's bass lines remain heavy and infectious throughout the entirety of the record. The second half of the track is a speedy ripper that would please fans of the signature KYUSS track "Green Machine". Here guitarist Ehren Groban sets the tone for his work on the record, infusing the more melodic aspects of the desert-rock guitar sound with a sense of heavy metal speed and shred at opportune moments.
Short bursts of rock energy make up the rest of the album. "Kentucky II" is a heavy blues-rocker that sounds like one of the less esoteric tracks of the CLUTCH catalog. "Lillianna" is a catchy track that sounds like it could be a radio-rock anthem, if you stripped away the fuzz and replaced Garcia with a more mainstream-friendly vocalist. "Don't Even Think About It" is the moodiest track on the record, with ominous riff progressions that sound similar to those in the MASTODON playbook.
The overall sound of "John Garcia and The Band of Gold" does have a slightly more garage-rock feel than some of Garcia's more recent efforts. Longtime desert-rock producer Chris Goss (MASTERS OF REALITY) manned the board for this record, his signature production touches layered throughout. The garage-rock power though is amplified by the drumming performance of Greg Saenz. His performance is not overtly flashy, but he rains down every drum hit with the same raw power that was encouraged during his early years with 1980s Los Angeles hardcore heroes EXCEL. Though in a much different musical environment than his teenage days, Saenz still brings a vigor to his drumming performance that blasts loud and proud on every track up until the more low-key psychedelic chill of the appropriately titled album closer, "Softer Side".
All of this effort—the songwriting, the production, and the instrumentation—would be for naught though if it wasn't for the fact that John Garcia has held on strongly to the qualities that made him a great rock vocalist twenty-five years ago. Garcia's biggest strength has always been his ability to belt out razor-sharp rock snarls, most notably here on "My Everything", while remaining equally capable of emitting soulful croons cracking with emotion, which carry tracks such as heavy breakup song "Chicken Delight". Age has been very kind to Garcia's vocals, as they still carry equal amounts of power and soul.
John Garcia has spent the last two decades preaching to the converted in the wake of KYUSS's breakup. The converted will find plenty to mine within the forty-minute running time of "John Garcia and The Band of Gold".