In what's become an annual tradition for us, we ask a few members of Team Backbeat to reflect on an album they're thankful for in honor of Thanksgiving.
Kyuss isn't a band to listen to through headphones. Ideally, you blast them on a warm, vintage stereo system, or through your car's speakers as you barrel down some lonely stretch of highway. If you were lucky enough to live in the Coachella Valley in the early '90s, you might have even heard them through the band's own amps at one of their now-legendary generator parties, open-air desert shows fueled by diesel generators and liberal amounts of mind-altering substances.
I heard Kyuss for the first time on a late-night public radio show, through a portable set in my dad's study in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I was in my early teens and already a confirmed metalhead, with a wardrobe that consisted pretty much entirely of baggy black clothes, and no interest in music any less venomous than, well, Venom. (To give you an idea, my favorite band back then was Mayhem. I was a pretty dark thirteen year old.)
There's no question that Blues for the Red Sun, Kyuss's second album and first in what would be a series of collaborations with producer Chris Goss, was heavy. But instead of gloom, it radiated a kind of psychedelic desert sunshine, like a mash-up of every vision quest, peyote trip and mirage in humanity's collective memory.
What struck me about Kyuss's music then, and still captivates me, was the incredible sense of place I got from it. I had barely been west of the Mississippi, let alone to California, but listening to Blues, I could close my eyes and see it perfectly: the red-orange desert, clusters of Joshua trees, the sun streaming down from a cloudless blue sky.
Josh Homme's chugging riffs on "Green Machine" made me think of a Thunderbird speeding down the road, all chrome and thrumming pistons. "Mondo Generator" sounded like a desert rager in full swing, with crumpled beer cans littering the ground and a bonfire throwing shadows across the hardpack. And when I listened to "Capsized," Homme's minute-long acoustic interlude, I pictured the stars winking on one by one in the darkened desert sky.
While Blues for the Red Sun wasn't Kyuss's magnum opus -- I'd have to give that honor to it's successor, Welcome to Sky Valley -- it was probably the outfit's most influential, spawning an entire genre's worth of stoner rock imitators. Though the majority of those ended up sounding like dumbed-down tribute bands, I sympathize: It's hard to listen to Homme's groove-heavy solos or singer John Garcia's alternately sweet and rough-edged delivery and not feel like you've discovered something worth sharing, a different, more vital way of approaching heavy music.
And while every angsty teen likes to think that their idols are speaking to them, when I listened to "Writhe" and heard Garcia sing "Everyone seems to be singing for Satan/I guess I will too," I felt like he had left a hidden message just for me: Hey, kid, lighten the fuck up. I paid attention. I traded in my black pants for jeans and Mayhem for Fu Manchu, the Desert Sessions, and a sunnier outlook on life. And ten years later, when I finally saw the Coachella Valley for the first time, it looked just like I had imagined it would.