Friday 10 June 2022

Electric Mountain - Valley Giant (2022)

Country: Mexico
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 May 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Of all the genres I've dived into since birthing Apocalypse Later Music in 2018, stoner rock is surely the freshest, mostly because I wasn't paying attention when it was born and missed out on all the early years. Nowadays, it's a truly global genre, not just one confined to the American southwest, and here's a great example of a stoner rock band from south of the border (and there are enough of these for some quick research to turn up Fuzztlán, a blog dedicated to them). Electric Mountain hail from Mexico City and, as is so often the case with such bands, they're a power trio, featuring Gibran Pérez on guitar and vocals, Jorge Trejo on bass and Max Cabrera on drums. This is a follow up to their self-titled debut in 2017.

For the most part, it's exactly what I expected. Stoner rock's twin sister, psychedelic rock, can go in a whole slew of different directions, but stoner rock mostly slides along a scale, softening up to be desert rock or heavying up to be doom or sludge metal. Electric Mountain are right in the middle of that scale, built out of chunky riffs reminiscent of Black Sabbath and blistering solos that take over enough that we often forget that one of these three musicians also sings. They're also fierce and energetic, whether they're rocking out up tempo or slowing down for effect.

What tends to vary the most in stoner rock is the amount of fuzz on the guitar and I'd suggest that Perez's sits midway between clean and crazy distorted, so perhaps 4 or 5/10 fuzzy, even though the intro oddly ramps it up further as a hint of what's not to come. The fuzz is certainly there to leave us in no doubt about what Electric Mountain are playing, but it doesn't overwhelm the sound like a fungus exuding through our speakers.

The other common thread that I see a lot in stoner rock bands is a focus on instrumental jams over vocal content. Many ditch the singer entirely and those that retain one often task him with double duty, noting that his instrumental job clearly far more important than the delivery of lyrics. Many stoner rock singers only seem to be such because they drew a short straw, no-one else in the band willing to step up. Electric Mountain do have a singer but, while he's clearly playing an instrument as well and he does probably see that as the more important role, he cares about crafting a vocal performance too and he does a pretty strong job with it, especially so for the genre.

That said, while I like his delivery, it often surprises me when he steps up to the mike, especially on repeat listens when I get to a favourite track I could have sworn was entirely instrumental, such as A Fistful of Grass. This one's actually only instrumental during its last third, but the band find such a sweet spot during that part that I forget every time. There's only one instrumental here, which is a real journey, A Thousand Miles High also being nine minutes long and always inventive. When it fades out, I'm always surprised, because it remains fresh, even at double the length of anything else here, and could easily have run on longer. Also, while this band lives on its riffs and solos, I got a real kick out of the bass on this one.

By the way, I said for the most part earlier, because there's a song here called At Least Everything that doesn't fit any of the descriptions I've just run through. Of all things, it's an acoustic piece, so inherently shorn of the amped up energy that everything else here thrives on, but it's a real song not an interlude. It's surprising to hear it on this album at all, but it's even more surprising for the position it holds, slotted into the track list partway through, eight tracks in, with a couple more to go. It's not a bad song, but it feels out of place here and would have worked better as an oddity at the end of the album, if not on a B-side later. There's enough music here for its absence not to be a problem.

So, that one anomaly aside, this is yet another solid stoner rock album, merely one from south of the border for a change. I've heard psychedelic rock from Mexico before, courtesy of SixSuns and Saturno Grooves, but this is the most traditional stoner rock I've heard yet and I'd certainly like to hear more.

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