At the risk of sounding like a press release, John Garcia has managed to carve himself out a unique niche in the music world solely by being among the progenitors of his chosen style. Beginning with Kyuss and continuing through Slo Burn and then with Vista Chino, Garcia is a prominent face on the Mount Rushmore of desert music, whether it be called desert rock or desert metal.
Forging ahead as a solo artist for the first time, Garcia strikes bravely with an eponymous record that centers on his desert roots, but is filtered through his personal experience with the blues and unfettered by the experimentations of the musicians around him. Sure, luminaries and friends like Nick Oliveri and Danko Jones make guest appearances, but the star of the show is John Garcia himself.
Garcia’s voice melds and mixes into the greater alloy of the persistent, idiomatic drone of desert rock, creating a mystique that is palpable but navigable with a proper understanding of the blues. The defining characteristic of Garcia’s vocal prowess is the controlled desperation that seeps through his voice, the dry delivery that launched a thousand also-ran careers. The experience begins with the strained refrain of “My Mind,” a cut that’s about as bombastic as desert rock gets, but still succeeds at capturing the imagination and drawing the listener into the headspace of the song.
Well represented is the minimalism of desert rock, an ethos that puts bite size portions of notes together and repeats them under they’ve wormed into your ear and won’t let go. It’s more of a science to write such riffs than anyone expects, the end result being almost like a rock version of a Philip Glass composition. Such is the case with “Rolling Stoned,” a bouncy but repetitive piece that showcases Garcia’s talent while retaining much of his roots.
The album’s meat comes from the middle, starting with the undulating “Flower,” and then skipping a cut to get to the crunch of “5000 Miles.” The former song is an excellent kickstarter, coming off like a slowed-down Ramones song pumped through an additional layer of analog equipment, while the latter is a dynamo, a prime example of the contained, well-paced ferocity of desert rock. If Monster Magnet were dehydrated and delirious in the sun, they would sound like “5000 Miles.” And that is a compliment.
And then, “Confusion.” It is simultaneously the album’s most stark, most academically interesting and most powerful song. It revels in the unaided, barely on time guitar signature, laying the melody, such as it is, bare. The track is emotional and raw, a needed reminder that songs need not be punishing or even remotely percussive to be dire and edgy. Some will love the song and some hate it, but its bravery in concept can hardly be challenged. For all the great stuff on John Garcia’s solo album, “Confusion” might be its most honest three and a half minutes.
What it comes down to though is that the individual listener’s appreciation for music in this style will dictate much of whether he or she likes this record. Good, bad or indifferent, John Garcia is keeping his music relatively close to his vest, and there are plenty of people who can only tolerate the seamless sameness and scarce variety of desert rock in short bursts. So, there’s that.
Nonetheless, John Garcia’s first solo attempt is laudable for its execution and blending of healthy blues standards with the tenets of the genre Garcia made famous. Fans of his other work will be greatly rewarded with this album, which is well-written and even more appreciable in execution. It’s a really, really solid record. Check it out.