Album: Odd (2016)
Genre: Stoner rock
Where to buy: Bandcamp
Stoner rock is indelibly associated with the California desert, where bands like Kyuss and Fu Manchu made generator shows an important part of the southern California rock scene. You are likely to think of Palm Desert, Indio, and Coachella. Less frequently, you will think of Gothenburg, Sweden. That will change once you hear Descarado’s Odd, their sophomore effort and first full-length album. The nine tracks herein manage to capture the tenor of a SoCal desert session exceptionally well. It’s groovy, it’s fuzzy, it’s playful in just the right ways, but the best thing about Odd is the reminder that desert rock is not nearly dead. In fact, the scene is having a moment, and bands like Descarado are paving the way for an international spicing of what was once a tremendously localized genre.
The retro production values most people associate with stoner rock are present here, though the album has a slightly warmer and cleaner sound than much similar music. There is an element of modern production here, without sanitizing the layerings and overproducing or overcompressing the guitars and vocals. The guitar and bass are pumped through a fuzzy distortion that fills out the space between riffs really nicely, and the vocals are alternately rough, wistful, wailing, and wry. You can hear lyrics being sung through a smile here and there, but mostly the vocals are earnest, and thus do not get lost in the same irony a lot of the SoCal scene revels (or wallows) in. The sandy overdrive that characterizes most of the guitars and bass takes a rest to let a clean tone ring out on “Descarada,” but that tone definitely dominates the album.
Musically, the songs are extremely straightforward stoner rock. Moderate tempos are broken up by occasional shifts to double time but more frequently to ritards that bring songs down to slow, droning, driving breakdowns. Occasionally, the meter will change unexpectedly, which is always fun to hear in music that isn’t really written to challenge conventions. The album’s opening track, “Circo Manumo,” includes a fun riff in 7/4, broken up into alternating bars of 3/4 and 4/4, and to these are added little moments of structural color: a brief slow-down in common time, a grace-note saturated guitar fill, a tacit moment for the drums while a chord is held, a shift to a broken-triple shuffle in common time. It’s quite fun to listen to, and I found it impossible to not move my head to the beat.
The musical centerpiece of Odd is the penultimate track, “Memorandum,” a ten-minute opus that starts as a textbook driving groove, giving the bass a chance to lay down a full and funky spine while the vocals cry out in dreamy contemplation. The second verse builds with a bit more aggression in distortion and vocal delivery, and the drones fill out before giving way to the first solo. After a little more grooving, the second movement begins, at a faster tempo and with more desperation; the third movement calls back to the first. The transitions are seamless and effective, and the repetition inherent in the genre does not at all feel tiresome here. By the time the album closes, you’ll feel like you’ve heard a lost desert session, rediscovered by Sweden’s stoner rock standard bearers.