Album Review: YAWNING SONS’ Sky Island

Yawning Sons are a band steeped in the culture and history of the “desert rock” scene. The band came into existence back in 2008, when British instrumental post-rockers Sons of Alpha Centuri asked Gary Acre of Yawning Man to produce their next record. Instead of merely producing, Acre instead joined the band and they recorded an album under the name Yawning Sons. The group seem to operate with something of a revolving-door lineup. Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson, Desert Sessions), Scott Reader (Kyuss, The Obsessed) and Wendy Rae Fowler (Queens of the Stone Age, Earthlings?) have all performed with the band. Their second full-length after a long break, Sky Island features those same musicians on different tracks, alongside core members Acre, Dandy Brown, Nick Hannon and Marlon King.

Sky Island’s blissed-out psychedelia evokes the sweltering temperatures, sunlit skies and open plains of Joshua Tree, California (where it was recorded in 2018). It leans less towards the metal end of desert rock and more towards ambient, reverb-soaked dreaminess. There are a lot of  shoegaze-inspired textures which give the record a unique feel that separates it from other examples of desert rock.

Although the songs almost blend into one another as a continuous psychedelic soundscape, there is actually quite a lot of variation here. “Low in the Valley” is based on a captivatingly hypnotic riff with howled harmony vocals rising and falling like waves. “Passport Beyond the Tides” heads into fully ambient territory with a synth wash and jangling echo guitars swelling and contracting to create otherworldly space rock textures. “Shadows and Echoes” borrows from early 80s post-punk, with a delicious vocal hook from Wendy Rae Fowler sitting on top of a driving jangle-guitar riff. “Limitless Artifact” closes the album – a slow-building instrumental, it gradually reaches a crescendo of post-rock guitars and swirling bass riffs.

Listening to Sky Island feels like lying in the baking sun in a semi-conscious dreamlike state with waves lapping on a shoreline, calm but purposeful. The album isn’t exactly full of catchy choruses or punchy riffs, and that’s probably part of the point. This is music that creates an atmosphere, a haze in which to get lost. It never quite gets “heavy” in the metal sense, but the ebb and flow of the psychedelic textures pulls on the emotions in a powerful way.

Fans of The Desert Sessions series of records curated by Josh Homme, of bands like Slowdive, or of classic 60s and 70s jam-based psychedelic rock will find Sky Island to be a very worthy addition to their record collections.

Sky Island is out now on black vinyl, splatter vinyl, CD and digital download editions via Ripple Music.

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