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...and Brant Bjork Leaves the Band - 75%

Xyston, April 26th, 2014

“…and the Circus Leaves Town” is Kyuss’ fourth and final full-length album, released just a few months prior to their untimely break-up in 1995. While its general quality does demonstrate that the desert gods ended their gig on a respectable note, that’s really the brightest perspective one can take on “…Circus”; with the departure of original drummer/founding member/musical genius Brant Bjork, the circus truly was on its way out of town, and the band knew it. Indeed, Bjork was one of the creative powerhouses of Kyuss – alongside guitarist Josh Homme – and his incredible songwriting is perceptibly absent on this record, which yields a few gems but fails to constantly captivate the listener like the previous two full-lengths do.

Nevertheless, it’d be quite unfair to suggest that "...Circus" captures some significant musical demise of Kyuss, as it's generally an inviting record. The opening couple of tracks “Hurricane” and “One Inch Man” are undeniably excellent, being catchy and concise numbers that retain the signature effervescent fuzz of Kyuss while enjoying a somewhat new, moodier feel. The former works very well as the record opener with its quick driving pace (albeit far more relaxed than “Green Machine” or “100 Degrees"), while “One Inch Man” is a Kyuss classic featuring unbelievable interplay between Homme’s timeless riffs and Scott Reeder’s uniquely grooving bass. Reeder bathes in the spotlight on a number of other occasions throughout the record, and "Thee Ol' Boozeroony" is a particularly great example of his punchy bass lines combining perfectly with Homme’s eccentric melodies and pummeling chords.

Although these few tracks amply demonstrate that Kyuss’ strings section hasn’t lost its vitality, we take the first true dip into the mundane with “Gloria Lewis”. John Garcia puts on an outstanding vocal performance here, yet he’s the only really enjoyable thing to take note of on this song. Homme’s working a gigantic Iommi-ish riff to death, complemented by a plodding beat and a dangerously restrained Reeder for four minutes, really going nowhere. Surely, this is an example of a song that could’ve been quite different if Bjork had his hand in its writing process. This might at first seem like plain conjecture coming from a seasoned Bjork fanboy, but considering how we’re discussing the guy who composed such Kyuss epics as “Gardenia” and “50 Million Year Trip” (with co-credit on many others), it’s not an insensible position to suggest that his former bandmates were missing his magic. Thus, in places where we could've had greatness and consistency on “…Circus”, we instead receive filler – perhaps not 'conscious filler', but certainly filler nonetheless. Songs such as “El Rodeo” and “Jumbo Blimp Jumbo” further illustrate this problem; neither is horrible, but they're hardly exciting and feature pretty goofy riffs and structures (take that cheesy Latin riff from “El Rodeo”, for example, or the annoying start-stop tempo changes of “Jumbo Blimp Jumbo”, which likewise suffers from a lack of real riffs).

However, credit has to be given where it’s due, and there’s definitely more credit to be directed towards the final Kyuss record than criticism. The undeniable highlight of the album is “Phototropic”, and if there’s inarguable proof that the Kyuss gents could still create definitive works of majesty without Bjork, it’s to be found in this song. Just as Kyuss conjure atmospheres of awe, empowerment, and mystery at the best moments of “Blues for the Red Sun” and “Welcome to Sky Valley”, “Phototropic” harnesses the raw energy of the desert with its remarkably transcendent, almost spiritual aura. The spacey first half of the track, somewhat jammy but altogether serious and self-conscious in its elegant feel and execution, is a Kyuss moment as glorious as any other – meaning it’s as good as stoner rock gets. The transition to the aggressive second half finely complements this laidback intro, showcasing a particularly memorable performance by Garcia although all members shine. Meanwhile, the album-closing epic “Spaceship Landing” at 11 minutes proper is certainly the most dynamic song on the record, and firmly demonstrates (like “Phototropic”) that Kyuss minus Bjork are capable of doing some serious damage and being creative as well. The quiet section nearing the end of the piece (“Why the finger? It’s alright”) should get every stoner fan tingling, and the song's shifts between heavier and lighter passages keep it highly engaging. Easily one of the best on "...Circus", and hard proof that Kyuss never lost the will to push their music to its limits, even in the face of their decline.

Overall, “…and the Circus Leaves Town” is certainly not a poor release, and contains a number of memorable tunes which indicate that a genuine effort was put into its composition. However, the absence of founding member Brant Bjork clearly had an impact on the overall product of “...Circus”. Indeed, it’s essentially impossible for the Kyuss fan to view this album outside of the context of Bjork’s departure, as this deprived the band of his creative ingenuity and ultimately set the stage for their dissolution. Still, it's also evident that Homme’s riffs just aren’t quite as commanding as they should be on some tracks here, despite how tempting it may be for some to completely attribute this album’s shortcomings to Bjork’s absence. In the end, “…Circus” may put many stoner outfits to shame despite only being a decent album by Kyuss’ standards; enjoyable stoner rock/metal but far from the glory of the preceding two records. While “One Inch Man” and “Phototropic” are among some of the best tracks of their discography – clear testaments to Kyuss’ status as gods of stoner rock/metal – they reside amidst a level of inconsistency that was largely unheard during Bjork’s tenure in the band.