Band: Sonora Sunrise | Album: The Route through the Canyon | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019
From: Barnaul, Russia | Label: Trail Records
For fans of: Hawkwind, Can, Ozric Tentacles
After running across this band, I’m starting to doubt if the American Southwest puts out any desert rock. I’ve previously discussed acts from Venice, Sydney, and The Netherlands that draw inspiration from the arid lands of California and Arizona, and now I’ve found this band from Siberia. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised; the band name would be a bit too on-the-nose for a group actually from the region. It’s not as if the Altai region is entirely dissimilar to the Southwest. It’s mountainous and semi-arid in places, albeit much, much colder.
Despite the desert imagery in the band’s name, and despite the fact that the music itself on this album evokes desert imagery, Sonora Sunrise don’t rely much on the blues. Instead, they opt for a more expansive, meditative sound full of lush synth pads and cosmic guitar arpeggios. The individual songs are unhurried yet mostly feel to be appropriate lengths. There’s also an impressive amount of sonic diversity. Krautrock, space rock, stoner rock/metal, and ambient music all get their own turn to be in the foreground.
After a brief, droning introduction, “Welcome to the Sandland” is an 11-minute journey that sounds like the backing to a nonexistent spaghetti Western. The rhythm guitar wobbles with extreme vibrato while a sharper lead guitar and warm synthesizer weave around one another. The intensity ebbs and flows as the song progresses, ranging from driving heavy psych to a menacing drone.
“Unexpected Trip” draws obvious inspiration from krautrock acts like Can and Neu! The drums are skittery, and the wah-wah guitar lines give this song an undulating backbone. Synthesizer is the lead instrument here, acting both as the melodic focus and as a lush backdrop at different points. “Poison” continues this trend, albeit in a heavier context. The heart of this song is considerably bluesier. Kraut flavors remain prominent, though, particularly in its second half, where the drums and guitars push forward with an insistent ostinato while minor variations in the backing keys draw the listener’s attention.
Much of the album’s second half stays in more traditional desert-stoner realms. “Canyon” sticks with the band’s usual deliberate pace, but effects-laden guitars twist and swirl in the foreground. This is one of the weaker points on the album, as the guitars are so layered that they feel as if they’re stepping on one another. The amusingly-titled “Millions of Snakes.” (notice the period) is the most generic song on this release. Its first four minutes consist of spacey, fuzzy guitar soloing over a simple, pulsing stoner metal rhythm. The second half is more distinct, but it’s not enough to save the track.
Based solely on what I expected when I first ran across this album, it exceeded my expectations. It’s an intriguing slice of psychedelia in many styles, and the long-windedness feels necessary on most songs. Sonora Sunrise are evoking a journey through a vast desert landscape. There are moments where the music gets bogged down under layers of guitar effects and busy-sounding solos, but those moments are the exception, rather than the norm. The Route through the Canyon is a good example of how desert rock can minimize blues flavors and incorporate krautrock to enhance the overall experience.