Before today, I had never heard all of a grunge album, and after my first listen of this album I was very ready to cross that off my music buscketlist. Because on my first listen of Welcome to Sky Valley I was ready to just pass this off as some ’90s generic grunge and was all prepared to write something lazily again about how it was just boring and samey.
But I got the urge to listen again. As I have with all these albums I heard it through whilst I was working and today has been a slightly hectic day and didn’t really give it a fair lick, so I popped Skyrim on, turned the sound down and popped my headphones in.
On a second play through I sighed, because the first track on the album does sound like just another Sound Garden track and I was ready to write this off as another generic rock album from 1997. But then it changed and morphed into something different, something more nuanced and interesting. Gardenia is a great song, it may go on for a bit too long but it does mean it gets time to experiment and play around with the sounds coming from the guitar, going from thumping bass riffs and guitar chords, to weird, subtle oodlings on the whammy bar, back to a different sort of constant thumping rock. It was the one thing I love most of all listening to this sort of music: Fun.
I’ve spoken a lot over the last week about music being fun and I’m not sure it’s something that is easy to quantify. I want music to make me smile but more than that I want to hear the artistry and enjoyment that the musicians are having whilst making it. As impressed as I am by super fast guitar riffs or the complex chord progressions of Giant Steps, I struggle with both because the performers aren’t having fun but you can hear the pain and effort in their performance. This level of virtuosity is very impressive and worth the listen, but it’s not something I necessarily enjoy listening to. I like hearing artists enjoy their work as much as I do.
Track two, Asteroid, goes full stoner rock with a 2 minute 15 second intro of slow building chords and noises that just fades away to be replaced by a clanky guitar biff that is slowly built on again. Slow, disjointed, and really relaxing. I can see this being played while you sit on the bonnet of a car and looking up at the stars. At the end it goes a bit Audioslave to wake you back up again, but I can begrudge the song that because it just got faster and faster and you can hear the drummer smiling as he gets to go a bit more wild each passing bar.
The rest of the album does feel a bit samey, but it’s a samey that never fails to be at least fun to listen to so I’m glad. The only real change comes when the song reaches the final two tracks, Whitewater and Lick Doo. The former is a nearly 9 minute long opus of stoner rock, the Lick Doo is a stupid song about getting someone to lick a poop. The artistry and musicanship of the Whitewater is brilliant, with each performer getting a time to shine from the tight, frantic drumming, the bass line that beds the whole piece, the guitar solos that are beguilingly simple, and the production which never lets it get too much and knows exactly when to switch the focus.
All this is followed of course by a silly shanty about poop, and it’s grand.
This is a good album and something I definitely would not have heard before this challenge. Add it to the good pile.
Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a walk into something a bit more spicy and a lot more cheesy. I may not survive.