Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Sargent House
Genre(s): Experimental, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Punk
A jam band is, at least in theory, a band that jams, and that can mean a lot of different things. If you're tired of that term being used to describe hippie-style meandering that takes a long time to go nowhere, Big Walnuts Yonder is a quartet whose members have put their own spin on the concept. Essentially a blowing session between four musicians who live and work on the experimental edge of indie rock, Big Walnuts Yonder is a collaborative project featuring bassist Mike Watt (formerly of the Minutemen and the Stooges), guitarist Nels Cline (of Wilco, the Geraldine Fibbers, and the Nels Cline Singers), guitarist and singer Nick Reinhart (of Tere Melos), and drummer Greg Saunier (of Deerhoof).
The membership of Big Walnuts Yonder is an experimental punk-pop math-funk lover's wet dream: Greg Saunier of Deerhoof manning the rhythm skins; Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos lending freak-wizard guitar and the lion's share of the vocals; Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) laying down elegant, demented bass grooves and handling the rest of the voice work; and finally, Nels Cline (Wilco) weaving wonders through the songs with his masterfully warped guitar hooks. History teaches that supergroups don't always work as well in practice as they do in theory, but that's very much not the case with these nuts. Big Walnuts Yonder as a whole has some potentially alienating sequencing, and doesn't gel quite as well in some spots as it does in others, but the music is always fresh, exciting and nuanced.
Big Walnuts Yonder sound almost exactly like what you'd expect out of a combo of Mike Watt (Minutemen), Nels Cline (Wilco), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), and Nick Reinhart (Tera Melos), but unlike death, taxes, and other such predictable things, that ain't no shame. Each member's ability to combine weirdo prog-level precision and classic SST freakcore abandon is brought to the fore here, sounding for all the world like a breathy modern take on classic Beefheart (albeit minus the Howlin' Wolf rips, and with a lot more effect pedals). This is the sort of thing which could've easily gone off the rails into "for-musicians-only" territory— and some might say that, on tracks such as the extended workout "Flare Star Phantom," it does— but this crew bring a focused, songs-first mentality which keeps Big Walnuts Yonder in relatively accessible territory without sacrificing any of its sense of adventure.
Big Walnuts Yonder brings together four artists with enough in common to make sense, but not so much as to mark an innate direction. Mike Watt, Nels Cline, Greg Saunier, and Nick Reinhart make up a supergroup of the off-kilter for their self-titled debut, and they bring each of their strengths to the album while maintaining the sensibility of a band. The recordings are unsurprisingly unpredictable, and the sound of a group having fun while taking themselves seriously.