Yawning Man has the distinction of being one of the coolest acts around to those in the know. Many bands can excel at the type of music they play, but few can lay claim to being the inventors or true pioneers of a movement. Somewhere deep in the Coachella Valley, guitar supremo Gary Arce, along with the Lalli cousins (Mario and Larry) and drummer Alfredo Hernandez came together around 1986 to jam marathon sets playing parties in garages and in the desert itself.
These legendary gatherings would heavily influence a notable list of names such as Josh Homme, John Garcia and lead future legend Brant Bjork to proclaim the laid-back, mellow, marijuana-heavy DIY gigs to be the greatest live act he had ever seen.
Despite not releasing any recordings until 2005’s Rock Formation, Yawning Man and their influence would loom large over the burgeoning desert rock and stoner scene they inspired in their wake. The members also spread their wings through a remarkable roll call of bands that often achieved higher profiles, such as Kyuss, Fatso Jetson, Brant Bjork & The Bros and Queens of the Stone Age.
Built around the core partnership of Arce and Mario, the band has seen numerous members, including the punk heritage of drummer Bill Stinson, enter the fold, which only seemed to have helped the proliferating nature of their output when they got rolling; releasing five albums, several EPs and collaborating with British instrumental maestros Sons Of Alpha Centauri in the Yawning Sons project.
The first release since the beautiful Live At Giant Rock recording which filtered the necessity of the pandemic through the lens of the stark beauty of their desert home and a follow-up to 2019’s Macedonian Lines sees Arce once again being joined by Stinson and the talents of former touring bassist and Vista Chino/Brant Bjork man Billy Cordell providing the low-end rumble.
Comprising of three tracks which span an impressive thirty-eight minutes, Long Walk Of The Navajo is classic Yawning Man. All three musicians have a familiar chemistry and history of being able to channel the drifting atmospherics that has come to define the band that dates back to 2005’s Pot Head EP and here they use that to great effect to craft those wistful, winding narratives that can transport you on a rainy day in the South West of England to the clear blue skies and tumbleweed playground of the Californian desert.
Opening with the languid but taut drumming of Stinson, the title track quickly introduces the rich tones of Arce’s clean, ringing guitar that swoops and soars with that none-more-cool surf rock vibe that informs much of his work from Waterways, Ten East and Big Scenic Nowhere. Infused with the swirling psychedelic jazz-like improvisational feel, the music dances light as air as it moves through moods and musical topography. Underneath the anchoring, comforting plod of Cordell’s bass is lush, warm, and comforting like the sun breaking through the clouds keeping the listener grounded as the lead work sprinkles that special Yawning Man fairy dust of magic like the morning dew gleaming off a cactus branch in the sunrise.
This shoegaze light reverb combines with the diving harmonies to create texture and movement that seems almost contradictory in the comparative stillness the overall vibe creates. Devoid as ever of vocals, the band rely on the ability to constantly shift the landscape through tone and texture to elevate what can seem like relative simplicity into something far more complex and emotionally connective as the music washes over you. The fifteen minutes feel like a journey that contains joy and moments of wistful melancholy that are never dull, but somehow both alien and organic at the same time.
the lead work sprinkles that special Yawning Man fairy dust of magic like the morning dew gleaming off a cactus branch in the sunrise…
The second track, Respiratory Pause, swaps the structure and starts with haunting guitar before the delicate splash of the drums and hum of the bass join for an altogether darker and more downbeat feeling affair that has some kinship with moments from Cigarette Footsteps, one of the standout numbers from Yawning Sons incredible 2021 album Sky Island. Slow and intricate, the expansive dynamics build around the nuanced interplay between the accented work from Stinson and the finger-picked guitars as the band moves through dreamy harmonies.
The inventive experimentation of the blues undertones rise and fall with the looped refrains that flow like breaths, taking you out of time even as the barely noticeable balance floats in and out of consciousness, like the stuttering cymbals at the end of the track as it slows down and the guitar inflexions become more focused.
Blood Sand rounds out the album with the shortest track. Still a sprawling near nine minutes of contemplative meandering space rock that manages to be both uplifting and yet sombre at the same time in a contradictory juxtaposition, it works in the magical way that only Yawning Man can create.
Built around whale-like calls of droning atmospheric guitars, it becomes an enchanting free-form instrumental that uses the tones and lead bends to conjure stirring passages that tug at the heartstrings and transports the listener to a world quite unlike any other.
As Long Walk Of The Navajo draws to a close, you are almost left with an aching sense of loss in the quiet that follows.
It is no secret the regard in which I hold the work of Arce and Yawning Man, but it is hard not to enthuse about the sheer tender beauty of the music they create. Even on this (comparatively) darker album (inspired by a desert storm that hit the Joshua Tree landscape resulting in a more gloomy feel), there is a captivating sense that everything they touch is special, and like fine wine in their advancing tenure, they are only getting better with age.
At the start of the year this, along with the long-awaited return of Dozer, was my most anticipated pick for 2023 and I am happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden