Blues for the Red Son may have been the album that launched a thousand bands and put Palm Desert quartet, Kyuss, on the sonic map, but for my money Welcome to Sky Valley stands as the group’s tour de force. The liner notes for the album, released in 1994, contained the instruction for the audience to “listen without distraction”, something that is easy to do when the album’s ten songs are presented – on the CD issues at any rate – in three tracks, and the songs flow as smoothly as they do here.
In some ways, Welcome to Sky Valley captures a band in transition as it is the last album with founding drummer Brant Bjork sitting behind the kit, and the first with bassist Scott Reeder – who replaced Nick Oliveri shortly after Blues for the Red Sun was released in 1992 – but the band’s sound is nothing if not cohesive from go to whoa.
And the album certainly wastes no time when it comes to the “go”, immediately bursting from the gates with Gardenia, which opens with a massive intro riff – if that’s even the correct way to think of it, as the song skips any foreplay and goes straight to the rocking out – courtesy of Josh Homme’s guitar, before Bjork enters with a drum roll. Despite having a bass tone that is more melodically minded than Oliveri’s blunt attacks, Reeder has no trouble fitting into the mix, his rounded sound counterpointing the crunch Homme wrangles from his rig, and John Garcia’s characteristic vocals complete the picture.
Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop ends the record’s first track with a bounding beat before 100° insistently opens track two. Space Cadet offers a period of mellow reflection before the engaging riffage of Demon Cleaner, which feels like a presage of what Homme would go on to do in Queens of the Stone Age. Gardenia’s raw machismo and swagger is revisited on Odyssey, while closing song Whitewater brings things down a few notches without stalling the album’s sense of energy and excitement.
Long before iTunes and Spotify, Kyuss recognised the trend towards listening to individual songs over albums and sought to subvert it by forcing the listener to listen to three or four songs at a time. To be honest, none of the tonal shifts between songs on Welcome to Sky Valley are jarring, and the record unfolds organically, taking the listener on a satisfying journey from the beginning to the end. To get the best out of Welcome to Sky Valley you should listen to the album in one sitting, without distraction.