Review: Yawning Man ‘Pot Head’ EP [Reissue]

Some bands are just destined to pass into mythical status. Many column inches, words and video reels have been committed to talking about the spiritual founders of the Coachella Valley desert rock movement and to paraphrase Kyuss/QOTSA main man Josh Homme, if everyone who said they witnessed the birth of this scene was actually there, then they would have filled stadiums.

Yawning Man 'Pot Head' EP [Reissue] Artwork
Yawning Man ‘Pot Head’ EP [Reissue] Artwork

After the demise of the original lineup of the pioneering Across The River (a band which boasted no less than Mario Lalli, Scott Reeder, Alfredo Hernández and Herb Lineau as members), out of the ashes would rise Yawning Man, which solidified itself around the core of Mario Lalli, his brother Larry and the magical guitar work of Gary Arce.

The legendary tales of the Desert Generator parties (organised by Mario, or ‘Boomer’ as he is affectionately known to those in the scene) grew and bands such as the aforementioned Kyuss took the heady influence of these early innovators and melded them with the nineties alternatives grunge sound to take the movement to a more commercial platform and worldwide recognition.

Yawning Man however, would shun this mainstream gold rush and continue to explore their own ideology that revolved around the organic interplay (at times almost psychic in nature) that bore fruit in psychedelic improvisations, inspired by the wide open desert skies and the bleak, yet enchanting solitude of the wind-blown rocks, to develop their own unique and untouchable style.

Despite existing since 1986 and recording several demos, no official recording would appear from the band until 2005. In fact, the closest the world would come to know of this special band was the cover of Catamaran by Kyuss on their 1995 farewell album …And The Circus Leaves Town. When the floodgates finally opened on this rich, untapped vein of raw creative power, the four-track Pot Head EP would follow just months after the band’s debut release, the stunning rock formations.

Originally released on CD and vinyl by Spanish label Alone Records (good luck finding that pressing!) Pot Head has the distinction of being the only recording until this year’s Long Walk Of The Navajo that doesn’t feature co-founder Mario on bass, having left the desert at the time of recording. This considerable hole was filled (with his blessing) by the equally considerable talents of De-Con bassist Billy Cordell (who also returned for Long Walk…) and the lineup was rounded out by drummer Bill Stinson.

Now for those who never got the chance to own a physical copy originally and to continue to shine a light on this special band, Ripple Music have lovingly reissued the EP on a number of formats to make the physical collector salivate and call attention to the early days of an act that, unwittingly to the wider world, would go on to have a huge, lasting impact on the scene.

Aside from the standard digital download and CD options, there are stunning ‘Head Full Of Pot Limited Beer/Galaxy’ splatter and Desert Sky Colour vinyl editions, both limited to 250 copies, as well as your standard midnight black, and a limited 4-panel digipak for you to trouble your conscience and wallet with, but all are beautiful and feature stunning new album art that compliments the vibes better than the original packaging.

On the subject of reissuing Pot Head, Ripple Music founder Todd Severin says, ‘I’m thrilled to be able to offer this vinyl reissue of the long-out-of-print, debut recording by desert rock legends, Yawning Man. Other than a pressing done to coincide with a tour many years ago, this album hasn’t been available on vinyl for several decades, and it sounds better now than ever. All new artwork, redesigned by the band also really sets this pressing apart.’

Yawning Man are one of the scene’s greatest treasures and, thanks to Ripple Music, this essential sonic milestone gets the love it truly deserves…

After all the hype, the uninitiated may ask what all the fuss is about.

The entries on show here are short compared to the sprawling later compositions that seem to stand adjacent to the flow of time, but when listened to without having to flip the vinyl, the twenty-four minutes that make up this understated record flow together like water running over glass. The hypnotic sounds conjured by the band are evident to hear as this is not the work of a new band trying to find their way, but the veteran field recordings of musicians that had been refining their craft for nearly twenty years at this point.

The rumbling, pulsing bass is like the lifeblood pumping through Yawning Man as Stinson provides the crisp, regular and unfaltering heartbeat, all of which lays the foundations for Arce to freeform and improvise his way through strings of notes and sounds that defy convention.

The use of loops, reverb, distortion and feedback help wring sounds out of their instruments like no other band and to experience Yawning Man is like getting lost in the desert, the sun cartwheeling overhead, the wind blowing sand against your skin and the big emptiness of the sky.

Manolete captures that fresh, bright-sounding guitar that jangles and weeps in the languid style that only Arce can produce with its laid-back and slow, bending and teasing notes that fade in and out.

In contrast, Digital Smoke Signals feels more urgent and jarring despite the longer run time, the treble sounds glancing off the warmth of the bass and echoing the splash of the cymbals before Encounters With An Angry God is darker and moodier still.

The freeform jazz-like grooves of the final track Samba de Primavera highlight where the musical development of Yawning Man began to distinguish itself from their album debut. The length of the songs begins to stretch, the vibe feels more jam-like despite the seemingly effortless ebb and flow of the music and a darker, subtle undertone emerges.

Yawning Man are one of the scene’s greatest treasures and, thanks to Ripple Music, this essential sonic milestone gets the love it truly deserves.

Label: Ripple Music
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden