“Yellow & Green” by the Baroness celebrates its 10th anniversary
In the early summer of 2012, Savannah, GA metal art quartet Baroness was on the verge of an artistic and commercial breakthrough. Less than two months later, we seriously wondered if they were going to continue to exist. yellowish green, the third album from Baroness, which turns 10 this Sunday, should have been a triumphant fanfare when they arrived at the top of the mountain to stand alongside Mastodon as the future of Southern heavy rock. Instead, he nearly destroyed them.
Baroness was formed in 2003 by guitarist/vocalist John Dyer Baizley, second guitarist Tim Loose, bassist Summer Welch and drummer Allen Blickle. This lineup has made two EPs (First and Second) and half a split with Unpersons. Loose left and was replaced by Blickle’s brother Brian; this program recorded red scrapbook, the band’s debut album and Relapse Records’ debut album. In 2009 blue discBrian Blickle was absent, replaced by Pete Adams.
Frequent member changes reflect the evolution of the band’s music. Those early EPs were pretty mediocre psychedelic sludge; if you liked other Savannah bands like Red Fang, Kylesa and Black Tusk, Baroness would have felt familiar but barely revealing. On red scrapbook, however, things clicked in a big way. The songs were less grounded and more ethereal; It turned out that Baizley’s vocals could soar and their guitars blared frequently when smaller bands might have stuck to a post-grunge roar. Perhaps just as importantly, Baizley’s visual art – which has always graced Baroness releases – had blossomed into a kind of Aubrey Beardsley fantasy world of half-naked young Victorian-looking women surrounded by birds and flowers. blue disc (on which the naked women were surrounded by fish and underwater plants) was a gradual but notable step forward, and the bonus disc that came with the first set of CDs, recorded at the Roadburn festival, proved they were a live kick tape too. Baizley has become an in-demand cover artist, painting album covers for Kvelertak, Pig Destroyer, Darkest Hour, Skeletonwitch, Torch, Kylesa and even Gillian Welch.
After their first two albums, Baroness had become an extremely difficult band on tour, but they consciously chose to take a year off to write album number three, which is how yellowish green has become what it is: a sprawling 75-minute double CD. In an interview with the Aquarius WeeklyBaizley said: “Very, very, very quickly in the [writing] process, it was awfully obvious to us that we were going to have a ton of songs on our hands. Which means that before the end of a month, we had written more than one album. After two months, we probably have three albums written. They started with 30 songs and ended up with 18.
However, Baizley didn’t want to deliver a CD-bloated monstrosity. “I saw the problem with having 75 minutes of music being that if you put it on a CD, after 45 minutes, 50 minutes, the listener’s ears are going to be incredibly worn…so we decided that, because we had to do it somehow, we would split the record into two records of very manageable length. Just because there are two CDs, you’re given an intermission. Physically, mentally, the fact taking out one CD and putting another in means you’re giving yourself a break. Whether that break is the time it takes to take out one CD and put in the other, or 24 to 48 hours later, it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. You need that break in there.
As befits his bifurcated title and physical split in two, yellowish green (which was recorded without Welch; Baizley played bass) really feels like two albums wrapped together. After the opening instrumental short “Yellow Theme”, the first disc is peppered with galloping rock songs, including the first single, “Take My Bones Away” and “Sea Lungs”, but there is a strong element of psychedelia and, perhaps even more surprisingly, AOR rock from the late 70s and early 80s popping up more frequently than expected. “Little Things” is built on a disco groove, and “Cocainium” sounds like Baroness trying out a radio-friendly program – including a wistful David Gilmour-esque guitar intro and shimmering, spacy Blue Öyster Cult/Alan Parsons Project keyboards. – but it also features one of the hardest, crunchiest riffs on the album. It ends with the nearly seven-minute “Eula,” a stomping, soulful track that ends with nearly a minute of almost Sonic Youth-ish guitar noise. It’s a bit like the band saying, “OK, that’s it. Take a break and come back.
In this same Aquarius Weekly interview, Baizley said, “The initial idea we had…was to put out two records that were quite striking in their differences…But once we started trying to apply those ideas, it seemed like a little heavy.” So while the second record, “Green,” is different from “Yellow,” it’s not drastically different. It also begins with a short instrumental, then launches into a heavy rocker, but “Board Up The House” is a slow stomp with a moaning, arm-waving chorus and huge processed drums reminiscent of Ok Computer–Radiohead era. In fact, there are many early Radioheads (and Flaming Lips) audible on this record. Each element of “Foolsong” is individually enveloped in reverb, until it is nothing more than a giant shimmering cloud; “Collapse” is a kind of psychedelic dub, with sequenced synths replacing riffs (a delicately chosen acoustic guitar ends up popping out of the mix); “Stretchmarker” lays more acoustic guitars over a slow programmed thump. “The Line Between” is Baroness’ most traditional rock song on the record, but it comes just before the closing instrumental, the almost Bill Frisell-ish “If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry.”
yellowish green was, and is, a musical triumph. It should have outsold its predecessors, allowed Baroness to tour successfully, and generally lifted them to the next level as a great American rock band of the 21st century. A major label could have snatched them from Relapse, like Warner/Reprise did with Mastodon. But less than a month after the album’s release, on August 15, Baroness’ tour bus lost its brakes and slid off an overpass as it descended near Bath, England, falling 30 feet. John Baizley’s left arm and left leg were broken; Allen Blickle and touring bassist Matt Maggioni suffered fractured vertebrae. Peter Adams was only slightly injured and left hospital the following day.