Review: Big Scenic Nowhere ‘The Waydown’

Bob Balch has seemed unfeasibly busy lately. In fact, so have fellow Big Scenic Nowhere collaborators Gary Arce, Bill Stinson and Tony Reed. A casual glance, and largely off the top of my head, these individuals have produced between them two Yawning Balch albums, Yawning Man’s Long Walk Of The Navajo and Mos Generator’s Time/Wounds since the end of 2022.

Big Scenic Nowhere 'The Waydown' Artwork

And that’s without even getting into Fu Manchu territory or mentioning the recent Slower project reimagining thrash legends Slayer that was released by Heavy Psych Sounds last Friday.

For those unfamiliar, Big Scenic Nowhere is the ambitious project formed by Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch () and Yawning Man’s Gary Arce on guitar as a one-off instrumental project back in 2009. Despite some live dabbling, it wasn’t until 2019 that the band became a real concern and they were joined by Tony Reed of Mos Generator, amongst others fame, on bass, vocals and keyboards, and Bill Stinson, also of Yawning Man, on drums in a cast that also featured Nick Oliveri, Per Wiberg, Thomas Jäger and Lisa Alley and Ian Graham of The Well to release their debut album Vision Beyond Horizon in 2020.

The latest album continues the band’s development and exploration that is often born from jam sessions involving Arce and Balch which blend the two unique styles to create something that falls in between the tripped out spacey sounds of Yawing Man and the fuzz heavy crunch of Fu Manchu, creating something timeless in its own right.

This latest collection of tunes has roots that go back to collaborations from 2021, 2020 and as far back as 2018, marking the continued journey of the band’s evolution, along with a Hall & Oates cover of Sara Smile (from the 1975 Daryl Hall & John Oates album) which even features a guest spot from legendary Hall & Oates keyboardist Eliot Lewis.

Despite their predilections for guest spots, bar the appearance of the aforementioned ivory tickler and Spiritual Beggars and Opeth man Per Wiberg, the predominant focus of The Waydown is the core quartet, lending this album a slightly more even feel than some of their previous releases.

Opening with the title track, the band wastes little time dropping into that dreamy, hypnotic space that they have become known for. Reed’s voice heralds the hypnotic deep, but mellow guitar chops of Balch, grooving alongside the bass whilst Arce spins his own inimitable spacey wash across the cascading flow. Stinson adds to the psych funk with deft drum patterns and shuffles that rise and fall with the expressive and rangy vocals.

At times, prog rock leanings collide with the looser jam-rock feel but are anchored by a harder classic rock edge that makes the song owe a passing debt to Black Sabbath at the height of their experimental powers.

At times, prog rock leanings collide with the looser jam-rock feel but are anchored by a harder classic rock edge…

Summer Teeth almost falls into a light delicate surf rock style that would not seem out of place on the 2010 Waterways project Arce recorded with British instrumentalists Sons Of Alpha Centauri with its languid, soulful drift. The main drive here is the interplay between Reed’s more urgent tones and the floating, dancing lead guitar. Throughout the thoughtful instrumental and mellow passages, to the blissful breakout at the chorus, the lyrics such as ‘If this is the last thing I ever do’ bind the tale together.

Almost seamlessly transitioning into the funk of Surf Western which features both four and eight string bass work. There is a groovy summer’s day feel to the track along with a Doors-esque vibe to the synth, giving it an ethereal shimmer, before a crunching power slide introduces a moodier feel to the second half as the guitar burns with more purpose as the vocals soar.

This darker turn continues on Bleed On as the lone guitar intro is joined by crisp drumming to usher in the downbeat chorus questioning and searching. As the song builds to the nagging earworm chorus of ‘Bleeeeeed on, go away, go away…’, the band get heavier and there is an undeniable feel of restrained power.

In contrast, Sara Smile is a ‘70s soul funk that is not a million miles away from the original, but here given a desert rock makeover that retains the crooning ballad’s playful tone but overlaid by the rich sounds of Reed and the thick, rolling pulse of Big Scenic Nowhere’s rhythm section that is a light detour from the seriousness of the preceding tracks. Having Lewis on board is just the icing on the cake.

BT-OH returns to the more muscular sounds of earlier with the initial heavy lyrical intonations of ‘I’ve been running down so long, how can I live on?’ morphing into a sing-along chorus that becomes a slacker anthem. As the track progresses, there are flourishes of their previous punk dalliances as the instruments pick up a frantic pace going into a smoky solo and instrumental jam that is the result of experienced veterans freeing themselves of any shackles.

The guest heavier 100 begins slowly to sign off the album with the longest track. Once again, the band combines to play off each other, the addition of Red Barn Gar’s lap steel and Per Wiberg’s synthesizers seamlessly complementing the slow plod as Reeves Gabriel (The Cure, David Bowie) handles the guitar loop transitions.

The Waydown feels like it marks a more complete vision of Big Scenic Nowhere than previous releases. Not to take anything from what has gone before, but it feels like here the band have established a highpoint in their feel and tone. It seems very disingenuous to use the word mature in reference to such seasoned musicians, but the more releases they make, the more defined their sound has become. This latest album feels more consistent, even than previous albums, as well as sonically catchier than before whilst losing nothing of what has made them special.

Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden