Fun fact; As a vinyl collector of some thirty years (since I was 11 before you age shame me), when I was given the opportunity to review the upcoming and long awaited re-issue of Yawning Man’s debut release, the 2005 Rock Formations, a quick internet search revealed the long sold out album would set me back literally an arm and a leg such is the reverence in which it’s held.
Yawning Man, the band currently comprising of guitarist Gary Arce, bassist Mario Lalli, drummer Bill Stinson and their influence has passed into stuff of legend such is their legacy in the genesis of the desert rock/stoner scene. Epithets like ‘Brant Bjork’s favourite band’ and their documented reverence from the other members of Kyuss, as well as their role in the now famous generator parties of the late eighties, means that their heavier descendants may have become more famous over time, but there is an argument that they have remained more unique, more free and just as important.
Despite forming in the middle of the Regan-era American with future Kyuss/QOTSA member Alfredo Hernandez on drums, it took nearly two decades for the material that made up Rock Formations to be committed to record from their original demos. Naming debates and the Lalli brother’s success with Fatso Jetson contributed to this delay but also did the shifting, evolving sound of the band that saw them separate itself from the rest of their desert influenced peers by becoming more experimental, more progressive. They created a strange sort of free form jazz like approach that was more interesting, using their music as a vehicle to capture moods, rather than craft hits.
Originally released on Alone Records, Rock Formations consists of ten tracks that would not yet trouble the length of later releases but builds a towards a story with all the tracks flowing through each other, capturing various highs and lows of emotions. Heavier and more in line with traditional compositions their later work would morph into, there is still a marked difference in the material from the bands they influenced who released their finest works a decade earlier.
Even the closing track, the heavier, more straight forward Buffalo Chips with its urgent drumming, and almost driving bass lines, has a faraway look in its eye like it definitely inhaled and is looking through its third eye to a better place.
When I described last year’s Live At Giant Rock performance, I said ‘Yawning Man make music that captures or inspires a feeling, music to listen to that takes you out of your body and into an audio submersion tank, as such, regardless of which track is playing, everything seems to flow together with a considered symbiosis’ and whilst it could be considered lazy, or arrogant, to quote myself, it’s hard to top that description.
using their music as a vehicle to capture moods, rather than craft hits…
Even early in their recorded history where the songs are more ‘standalone’ it’s hard to separate the band from that ideology. The opening title track sets the stage with all the purpose of setting out on a long road trip, full of hope and purpose. Slightly more muscular than their later output would become, it features all the classic traits that Yawning Man are known for; the driving platform of Lalli and Hernandez, never out of step, symbiotic and entwined rise and fall in time, each one together or stepping back to allow the other to take the lead without losing themselves. This allows Arce to simply emote over the top and tell their collective tales.
As the album evolves the meandering music becomes more experimental, more expansive, more mystical and whilst there are clear breaks between the tracks, it’s easy to see how, when playing live, the band could transition between songs, playing with the audience conducting their mellow drug influenced trip like a benevolent conductor that would lead the aforementioned Bjork to claim that they are the greatest band he’d had ever seen.
I make no secret of the fact that I consider Gary Arce to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time and his ability to wring ethereal, other worldly sounds from the loops of delicate space rock, melancholic and somehow uplifting at the same time, like you took a wrong turn on that road trip, but it turned out to be the spiritual awakening you never knew you needed.
Available again on limited edition splatter coloured vinyl (just 200 copies so get over to the pre-order ASAP), worldwide on black 12” and come with a beautiful 8-page booklet, Rock Formations has the chance to reach an audience that has grown up since its release, or never got the chance to get their hands on it via anything but digital means.
An incredible steppingstone in the history of the band, and the scene they helped shape, Ripple Music have given a new lease of life to an incredible band and a fantastic album. Once described as ‘a melancholic mix of acoustic space rock with elements of surf music as well as middle eastern guitar style’ Yawning Man’s debut was, and still is, an absolute gem and a shining beacon of how music is a medium that can take us away to a higher plain.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden