Written by: The Administrator
While we Villagers pride ourselves in having a solid familiarity with the content we critique, I'll be the first to admit that my level of familiarity with the 5 tracks contained within today's EP in question surpasses an acceptable level of sanity. Typically, in preparation for an in-depth review, I listen to the material around 10 times. Return From The Void, in drastic comparison, has entered these wretch'd earholes...well, significantly more frequently. All told, stating that I've listened to this damn thing upwards of 50 times doesn't sound terribly off base.
Why, ye may ask? In the year or so since I first encountered the hard rockin' Deserts of Mars, I've become oddly dependent on their (regrettably slim!) output. Return From The Void is what I turn to when I'm not sure what to listen to, when I'm feeling a little down, or when I just need a quick kick of stoner rock into an otherwise hard-hitting playlist. As a result, I've entered a strange scenario wherein a review feels somewhat impossible to write. Can I truly view this thing from a passingly neutral standpoint, or does my history color any interpretation with rose-colored glasses? Given the potential limitations, I'll do my best to be fair to you, dear reader.
While a pleasant variety helps define Deserts of Mars, fuzzy rock is ultimately the name of the game, tastefully outfitted with Martian desert grit and a certain astral flair. If comparisons help, think a merger featuring the psychedelic side of Mothership with the rockin' drive of (fellow Texans) Duel.
This is the alchemical paragon of feel-good music: catchy driving riffs, hooky-yet-relaxed clean choruses, subtle aggression, forthright drums, and a whole lotta fuzz. Check out opener "Raise the Pyramids" for a solid introduction to the general spacey tone. There's a lil' hard rock, a lil' desert grittiness, a lil' stoner ethereal-ness, and just enough swagger to help Deserts of Mars stand out from the crowd. A particular strength right off the bat are the vocals, which switch between languidly dusty cleans and tasteful throaty grit. The former sets the general tone, and the latter serves as punctuation.
An immediate outlier from a sonic and thematic perspective is the rawk-ous "Black Leather," which kinda feels like a radio single found in the jukebox of a Blade Runner-esque biker bar--a little bit of terrestrial Texas in the otherwise Mars-red landscape. The vocal harmonies on the catchy chorus, courtesy of Rain Nox's stellar guest vocals, are the cherry on the top of this rollicking number. Things take a turn for the cosmic once more on the following tracks, with followup "Your Altars" leaning into the atmospherics. The vocals here feel more distant, adding a mournful air that carries over into the overtly spacey "Everything (But You,)" which remains my favorite track herein. Firing off with a brief liftoff sample, the sweet and spacey crooning over a simple rock beat escalates into a bangin' riff and anthemic chorus. It's a delicate balance between emotive astral meandering and a desert rockin' good time--a formula utilized throughout the EP, sure, but encapsulated in its most potent and powerful form on this track. Closer "Journey" puts a bow on the whole affair with a fine application of the established sights and sounds. It's a slower number, leaning into Deserts of Mars' more somber side--but yet that very subtle aggression lurks beneath the surface. In all? Five tracks worth listening to. And then again. And again.
But just 'cuz I'm utterly infatuated with this thing doesn't mean I'm blind to its (exceedingly minor) flaws. While the majority of the vocals are relentlessly on point when it comes to delivering that laid-back stoner vibe--and are indeed remarkably dynamic across the board--they occasionally feel a tad disconnected from the underlying instrumentation. For example, before becoming familiar with the personality of each track, the slightly strained vocal delivery on "Journey" and the chorus of "Your Altars" pulled me out of the psyched-out vibe. Other than that, my biggest complaint is that, well, there isn't more. Each track herein has a unique character, and having another track or two representing the band's distinct sides would only strengthen and validate the inclusion of different textures and sounds. But! Complaining about not having enough of a good thing is hardly valid criticism. I just want more, dammit, and am not ashamed to beg. There's only so much one can do in the span of an EP, and Deserts of Mars handled this effort handily.
And so, here I sit, having listened to Return From The Void yet another time. I typically move on upon completion of a review, allowing the music to fold into the fabric of the year's consumption and later be regurgitated, at odd moments along the way, in fits of nostalgia. That approach simply does not apply in the case of Deserts of Mars. I'll be listening to this thing until they release something new--and then, I can only predict, I'll become similarly attached. Highly recommended.
Deserts of Mars - Return From The Void was released Dec. 18th, 2019
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!