Review: Yawning Balch ‘Volume One’

Bob Balch, the lead guitarist in stoner/desert rock originators Fu Manchu is a busy man. Outside of his duties as the fuzzed-out lead shredder, he also runs, giving online guitar lessons, as well as recruiting a myriad of musicians to share their secrets on his website. In addition, he’s found time to head out to Joshua Tree, California multiple times to record music with Gary Arce and Bill Stinson from Yawning Man, and Tony Reed from Mos Generator, among many other guests and collaborators.

Yawning Balch 'Volume One' Artwork
Yawning Balch ‘Volume One’ Artwork

The result being the desert ‘supergroup’ Big Scenic Nowhere which is a much more expansive, psychedelic take on the genre, certainly a different vibe than his main gig in Fu Manchu. In keeping with this idea, he ventured out to Joshua Tree again in November of 2022, this time with the intention of doing more of an improvisational, all-instrumental approach with both Arce and Stinson, as well as Billy Cordell on bass, and using his own words, ‘The only discussion beforehand was that Gary Arce and I wanted to mess with tons of guitar pedals’. Evidently, the musicians jammed for five hours, certainly using tons of guitar pedals, whilst conjuring enough music for two records.

The first record, Volume One, is similar in vibes and energy to the aforementioned Big Scenic Nowhere releases, obviously minus Reed’s vocals. Long, spaced out, trippy, winding, ethereal, psychedelic, guitar rock that literally feels as though the listener is transported to a different place. The first single, Dreaming With Eyes Open, is a sprawling, swirling, twenty-plus minute, slow-burn exercise in dreamy guitar kaleidoscopes and desert grooves. The guitar interplay between Balch and Arce is mind-bending, while the drum and bass are locked into a tripped-out groove throughout, that will have the listener wondering if they’ve been transported to a different plane of reality.

Listening with headphones, one can visualize the scorched California desert-scenery while traveling along a long stretch of highway late at night. In the tracks last few minutes, the distortion pedal is hit, resulting in a nice guitar dichotomy between the fuzzy shred and the cleaner, spaced-out sounds that bring the musical movement to a satisfying conclusion.

slow-burn exercise in dreamy guitar kaleidoscopes and desert grooves…

Cemetery Glitter flows along with the same ambience and some awesome, noteworthy bass, that once again allows the guitarists to fully explore sounds and effects to their hearts content, and explore they do, as both of them unleash waves of tripped-out sounds with seemingly infinite possibilities. There’s an ever-so-slight air of danger to Cemetery Glitter, as this song could serve as the soundtrack if one is about to be sucked into a UFO while driving through the California desert. Closer, Low Pressure Valley offers up a mellower atmosphere, still spacey and trippy, but much dreamier, and of the three songs, probably the closest to Yawning Man’s sonics, as well as being best suited to close the record to my ears.

I’ve always considered Bob Balch to be one of the more underrated guitarists of the genre, which is, in of itself, mind-boggling, as the man, along with his Fu Manchu bandmate Scott Hill, are responsible for so many genre-defining, classic albums, riffs, songs and killer lead work. His playing is always crisp, and precise, and that does not change on Yawning Balch, despite a completely different sound and approach to his main band, to say nothing of the psychedelic effects he conjures up, which puts on full display Balch’s diversity as a guitarist and musician.

Arce, as always, completely shines all over the album as his and Balch’s fluid interplay seems effortless, while the rhythm section of Stinson and Cordell completely lock down the groove throughout the course of the record. Volume One is a super cool release that I most certainly enjoyed, and one that I instantly included among my ‘late night albums’. Highly recommended.

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

Scribed by: Martin Williams