Review: Yawning Sons ‘Sky Island’

My personal history with Yawning Sons and The Sleeping Shaman has been documented elsewhere, but for the uninitiated, exceptionally talented British instrumental band Sons Of Alpha Centauri brought in desert rock maestro Gary Arce (Fatso Jetson, Yawning Man) to help with the pre-production of their second album.

Yawning Sons 'Sky Island'

That album never saw the light of day, and instead the world was gifted Yawning Sons Ceremony To The Sunset, a beautiful mix of ethereal instrumentation that crafted surf and desert rock into seven tracks of moving and tender song writing, flavoured by the stunning vocals of Wendy Rae Fowler, Scott Reeder and Mario Lalli. Since its release, the stature of the album has grown to be celebrated as a bona fide classic, and a rare example when lightning is captured in a bottle.

To this day (and doubly since its release on vinyl in 2014) it remains one of my favourite releases I’ve had the pleasure off reviewing.

The live recording for the long hoped follow up concluded at Desert Sky Studios in the deepest part of Joshua Tree during 2018. The album serves to reinforce the reason why their debut has now become what is considered to be a classic, and not a happy accident, as the chemistry in this project is something truly magical.

In addition to the original line up returning for Sky Island, they’re also boosted by the inclusion of Dandy Brown (Hermano) on vocals alongside turns by Reed, Fowler and the bands own Lalli and Marlon King.

As with their debut, their latest album is something born from a feeling, and a yearning, as much as it is born from skill. The rich, desert soaked sun, the heat, the sand, the seeming peace and emptiness of the barren landscape covered by a blanket of clear blue skies, soaks through the voice on Sky Island. Anyone who has seen the accompanying video to Yawning Man’s Live At Giant Rock release last year will have had a drone’s eye view of the landscape, and this atmosphere alongside the laidback, chilled out vibes of Yawning Sons brings a tenderness, a rawness of the soul into what they do, making them unique among artists.

Beginning with the urgent pulsing bass of Nick Hannon, Adrenaline Rush soon ushers in King and Arce, then the full band complete with effects, before King’s multi-layered vocals take us on a journey of desire, soaring off dizzyingly in a kaleidoscope of swirling melodies like an out of body experience. More muscular and almost aggressive compared to their previous work, it serves as a statement of intent that the band aren’t wasting time on past glories, but furthering new paths of experimentation.

The 2am barstool tale of Low In The Valley narrated superbly by the first appearance of Dandy Brown is a musing blues, sombre and heavy. Relatively stripped back to moments of minimal intrusion, the deft musical touches colour the mournful vocals, the guitars dancing behind softly to rise and accent the vocal lines full of regret and caution.

In many ways this is the perfect example of how Yawning Sons work. The rise and fall of the musicians in perfect symbiosis, like breath, allowing Arce and King to express themselves, never overstepping from the vibe, or pushing themselves to the forefront, allowing the vocals their moment and the drums to make their statement. When they do come to the forefront, you suddenly realise what they’re doing is unrivalled, and unbelievably talented, and what’s more, they’ve been doing it the whole track, making repeat listens a treat as you mine for more from Sky Island each time.

The rich, desert soaked sun, the heat, the sand, the seeming peace and emptiness of the barren landscape covered by a blanket of clear blue skies, soaks through the voice on Sky Island…

The most striking thing in all of this is how effortless they make it sound. The psychedelic surf rock of projects like Waterways make an appearance with a nod to the cool, laid back vibes.

The Sleeping Shaman endorsed preview track Cigarette Footsteps sees the creeping desert sounds of the previous outing come to the fore, like the sun climbing high overhead as Mario Lalli croons delicately, as if on a long winding road trip with the top down. This track sounds like a montage of beautiful drone filmed shots of a single connecting road between small towns, nestled in a vast open space where memories are tender, fleeting and personal, like the veins that carry a body’s lifeblood.

Passport Beyond The Tides ushers in SOAC like space rock sounds forming the first of the album’s only two instrumentals, before the vocals return on the Wendy Rae Fowler led Shadows And Echoes in an upbeat, breathy number that has a less manic Kate Bush like feel.

Digital Spirt and Gravity Underwater featuring Scott Reeder, and another showing for Dandy Brown, play off each other in terms of themes. The former being a lavish, universal encompassing choral track that takes inspiration from the American National Anthem washed in warmth, whilst the latter is an introspective stripped down journey that builds to redemption.

Both conjure a glimpse back into the golden era of the American Dream of peace and freedom, before the band leave us with the bass led instrumental of Limitless Artifact (sic). The album draws to a close on a magical jam that lets the band do the talking, leaving you to pick the path of your own existential journey.

Sky Island is a writers dream and nightmare; there is so much to talk about and yet deliver in a manner that doesn’t stretch the reader’s attention. Ceremony To The Sunset was an exceptional record that has rightly become recognised as a special release, making a follow up an incredibly tough prospect to even come close.

However, Yawning Sons have proved themselves more than just a one off happy accident with their second album by producing a worthy successor, recalling all the reasons why they click as a unit and should be celebrated as musicians. Does it surpass it? That’s not a call I can make this soon after hearing it, but there’s no doubt I’ll be listening to it a lot more.

Label: Ripple Music
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden