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... and Brant Bjork Leaves Kyuss - 83%

Doominance, November 30th, 2015

In the early to mid 90s, it seemed like everything was going swimmingly for Californian desert rock band Kyuss. A decent debut album ('Wretch') lead to a great second album ('Blues for the Red Sun'), which then further escalated the band's path to greatness with their best ever release (self-titled album, but commonly known as 'Welcome to Sky Valley'). 'Sky Valley' was recorded in 1993, but released in 1994 due to some contract issues with the label. That would prove to be the least of their problems, since internal issues had erupted between primary songwriters Josh Homme and Brant Bjork. This resulted in Bjork leaving the band. This meant that close friend to the band Alfredo Hernandez (Across The River, Yawning Man, Che, Queens of the Stone Age) would handle the drumming for Kyuss' fourth and final effort '... and the Circus Leaves Town'.

With Brant Bjork's departure, the band was a songwriter short, so vocalist John Garcia played a bigger role in the songwriting now. He wrote "One Inch Man", for instance, which has become a trademark Kyuss track and received airplay on MTV some time after its release. Garcia also took part in writing "Hurricane" and "Gloria Lewis", but these songs are very straight-forward and aren't especially great. This brings us to the point on what makes 'Circus' a weaker effort than both 'Blues for the Red Sun' and 'Welcome to Sky Valley': the lack of Brant Bjork's songwriting! This is no diss on John Garcia; he's a good vocalist with a very distinctive voice and fantastic charisma, but his songwriting pales in comparison to Bjork's songwriting; a man responsible for classics such as "Green Machine", "Gardenia" and "Whitewater", and more. The songs mentioned now are better than 90% of the music on '... and the Circus Leaves Town'.

On a positive note, there are some very, very good songs on 'Circus', too. "One Inch Man"; while simple, is a fun, little ditty with a memorable chorus. "Thee Ol' Boozeroony" is a short instrumental piece with a great beat and awesome bassline provided by Scott Reeder. "Phototropic" has a laid-back, dreamy intro before breaking into a heavier and more straight-forward style and Garcia performing well vocally. "Catamaran" is a song originally written by Alfredo Hernandez and his friend in Across the River (this included bassist Scott Reeder), but Kyuss' rendition of the song does it justice and it stands out as the best song on 'Circus' alongside "Phototropic". "Catamaran" features a "floaty" guitar with a relaxed vibe and a neat bassline, but breaks into heavier sections for the chorus; much like "Phototropic". Album closer "Spaceship Landing" is also worth a mention. An 11 minute epic of fuzzy deliciousness. But the best part of the song is actually the hidden track called "Day One"; a song dedicated to Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl after the passing of Kurt Cobain. A slow, but very Nirvana-like track.

'... and the Circus Leaves Town' would probably have sounded much different with Brant Bjork, as he was the primary songwriter of Kyuss. I can't help but think that his talent for writing very atmospheric music would add another, different, layer to the music on this album. It would perhaps feel more complete and have a better, more natural flow. But with that said, 'Circus' is an album worth a heavy rocker's time. The album is a bit weaker than 'Blues' and 'Sky Valley', but stronger than 'Wretch'; and most other "stoner rock" albums.