Japan’s Sonic Flower began in the early 2000s as an offshoot of Church of Misery. They released one self-titled album in 2003 and then broke up in 2005 following some aborted recording sessions. Reforming briefly in 2007, only to break up again the same year, Sonic Flower lay dormant for 14 years until they finally reformed again in 2019. A full-length album with a new lineup including a vocalist is scheduled for later in 2021. To whet their fans’ appetite in the meantime, the band are first releasing Rides Again (Heavy Psych Sounds Records), which consists entirely of tracks recorded in 2005 from the aforementioned aborted sessions.
Rides Again is a 28-minute mini-album consisting of seven instrumental tracks – five originals and two covers (“Stay Away” by The Meters and “Earthquake” by Graham Central Station). The record is brimming with scuzzy psychedelic heavy rock riffs which have the 1970s stamped indelibly all over. And these are some pretty catchy riffs. What’s also noticeable is that the band operate with a laid-back looseness – pushing and pulling with tempos and occasionally missing the odd note here or there. It’s imperfect but it’s intentionally so. The production is also intentionally a little bit rough and dust-coated. In fact, it sounds as if the whole stereo mix has been run through a valve distortion unit. This noticeable saturation takes the concept of nostalgic 70s-style warmth and ramps it up to 11 so that the whole thing sounds growlingly aggressive in a wholesome and slightly lo-fi way. Some people might find this approach to be a bit too much, but others will appreciate the noisy abrasiveness. It sounds loud; that’s for sure.
“Super Witch” opens the record with its driving shuffle groove and wah-wah guitar solos. “Black Sheep” is up next, with steady grooving blues-rock riffs sounding somewhere in between Cream and Led Zeppelin with an extra dose of fuzziness. “Jungle Groove” recalls Santana with conga and tom-tom jam sections that trade places alternately with ferocious proto-metal riffs. The dynamic light and shade are excellent here. “Captain Frost” brings us to classic doom-tinged early Sabbath-esque territory. “Stay Away” – a cover of The Meters – is suitably funky and features a soulful Hammond organ, with heaviness levels dialed right up compared to the original. Those who know the song might miss the vocal lines, but nevertheless, this instrumental version works in its own right, with guitar solos and dextrous bass and drum improvisation filling the gaps. “Quicksand Planet” is perhaps the most sludgy of all the tracks here, with some leaden riff breaks interspersed amongst the kind of rolling grooves we’ve grown to expect from the record. The final track is “Earthquake” – a cover of Graham Central Station – and this version downplays the funkiness and emphasises the flowing and soulful bluesy riffs. Again, some will miss the lack of vocals here, but the track is played with an undeniably fiery energy which keeps it compelling as an instrumental.
Rides Again displays a rare ability to keep this sort of music interesting without the need for vocals, and it pulls off an unusual production feat in being simultaneously aggressively heavy and nostalgically warm. Beyond that, it doesn’t do anything particularly unexpected and it doesn’t really cover any ground that hasn’t been well-trodden before. The riffs, solos, jams, and breaks that make up these pieces, whilst excellent, all follow established structures that have existed for more than half a century. It would, however, be churlish to complain about these facts. Fans of this type of music – whether we call it stoner rock, 70s rock revivalism, or whatever else – largely want the music to stay within its boundaries and to be consistent with what has gone before. That’s the whole point. Those people – the ones who have a constant craving for more incense-laced riffs and swirling guitar solos – will certainly not be disappointed with Rides Again.
Rides Again will be released on 29th January 2021 via Heavy Psych Sounds Records. Buy it here:
7 / 10