Opossum Sun Trail is a group I have championed for half a decade for their integrity, musicianship and brilliant creative output. So I didn't want to be too overwrought with the big bag of superlatives I keep stashed for just such an occasion when I reviewed the group's latest release. But dammit, this one is a banger and a true improvement in every way from 2019's intriguing Strontium Highway.
In Mojave/Klamath, core songwriters and couple Michael Dieter and Nola Pierce inhabit that last great American voyage-maker: the 1999 Ford Econovan. Having been a van dweller myself a decade ago, I can tell you these modern wagons are among the finest shelters one can wake up in, with the obvious caveat that extreme temperatures are just as roughly encountered as they were in its ox-driven forebearers. So, I have a lot of admiration for the true grit that Nola and Dieter displayed by parking their rig in the Mojave Desert and beginning the writing process of the first half of this wild album. Over the course of six songs, the two, along with drummer John Daren Thomas and soundsmith Anthony Taibi, create songs that take you out there to the extreme wildness of the place, both in range and mythology. In the reverb-tilted guitar lines and analog keys, you can hear death chants and creation stories, and get haunted by interdimensional aliens popping up in the shimmering sunset. It's a hell of a thing to create a landscape with sound and these two are plein air masters.
The B-side of the record is Klamath, in which the art shifts from a depiction of a little gray man from '50s UFO lore inhabiting a sparkling night on desert topography, to a more regionally familiar cryptid, our good friend Mr. Sasquatch, who is seated in the evergreen mountains of our homeland. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the cover art by former Humco resident Chet Wheatley, who has risen to the moment and remembered the lost art of old school record covers. The opening songs in the mirrored six-song suite are "Klamath 1," with its modal, sliding guitar paired with drum swells and keys, and "Klamath 2," in which the modal melody is now taken up by Pierce's lovely voice, while the band builds into a proper freakout that would have anyone with a taste for good psychedelic salivating like a thirsty coyote. However, it's the changes that make the whole thing work; they are effortless, unpredictable and beautiful. There are so many sounds on this record I cannot wait to get a copy on black wax, and lose myself in the needle and grooves with a good set of headphones. I am right now thinking of a few friends whose hi-fi sets are going to be invaded by this glorious business after the holidays.
I have long made it a practice to only reviewing records I enjoy because, frankly, this town ain't big enough to be making enemies, foreign or domestic, and I don't like to slag off people's art. Some things aren't for me and some things are also just bad, even when judged by the scope of their own aesthetic merits. But here I find myself reviewing something I am actually ecstatic about. By the time the last track, "Moonburn," fades into you, the immediate urge is to start the whole thing over.
Despite the high regard in which I have always held Opossum Sun Trail and its musicians for years, I am astonished by the glory of this record. It's a step up in every regard, from concept to creation. Credit that to the group's travels, throw some credit out there to Grass Valley recording engineer Tim Green and his Louder Studios. Perhaps credit some of this to the "mystic chords of memory" that resonate within the living heart and soul of any true artist who has traveled through these landscapes with an eye for their own version of documentation. And after we're done dispensing the credit, go find this record, help see that it sells out and gets re-pressed again and again. I am so happy to finish this year by reviewing such a scorcher. OK, enough talk, I'm putting it back on the speakers.
Collin Yeo (he/him) has lived in mountains, deserts, swamps, coastal rainforest, and even Brooklyn. These days he lives in Arcata. So it goes.