Review Summary: Bearing psychedelic fruit as sweet as their namesake.
Guava Tree is a pretty weird band, and their new self-titled EP is a pretty weird EP. Listen to it and you’ll be treated to an extended, noodly instrumental, a spoken word interlude, a wide array of vocal styles and guitar tones, and sloshy, effects-drenched samples of rushing rivers, snippets of conversation, and what sounds like a bong rip, all in the span of just under 20 minutes. Pretty unusual pitch, no? Well, as it turns out, a description of Guava Tree on paper kind of belies how broadly appealing and palatable their sound really is. The Logan, Utah-based psych act has a lot going for them- formidable technical chops, a knack for inventive sound design, frontman Sam Johnson’s excellent vocals- but their greatest strength might actually be how easy and instantaneous they are to “get”. I live in Logan- it’s a pretty small town, and this band has quickly become a local fixture over the past 2-3 years. I’ve seen them play hipster-y indie venues, restaurants, bars, house parties, and even random street corners, and with very few exceptions, just about everyone who encounters their music in any of those contexts is able to have a good time with it for a little while. The key to this EP’s success, then, is how well it manages to preserve Guava Tree’s something-for-everyone universality, while simultaneously forging a unique sound and showing off a bit of deeper ambition, both as songwriters and recording artists.
The EP consists of five tracks, but only three of those are proper “songs”, in a typical verse/chorus sense. The other two, “Rabbit Hole” and “Through the Looking Glass” function to round out the listening experience and make the three-song set feel like a much more substantive affair. “Rabbit Hole” in particular works great as an intro, easing the listener into Guava Tree’s laid-back style with liquid, reverb-laden guitar leads and the aforementioned clips of running water and splashing noises. It cultivates a sonic space that the songs to follow will make the most sense within, and establishes the palette of the EP so the first proper song has a leg up and isn’t starting from scratch. Though it and “Looking Glass” aren’t what will likely stick with listeners the most, they nonetheless form an important part of the EP’s identity. It’s these tracks that actually make me the most excited at the possibility of an eventual full-length release from the band, because it shows an understanding of how to create a strong holistic impression across multiple compositions, while still keeping things succinct and to-the-point. The EP has a fairly languid pace to it overall, and it isn’t afraid to take sonic detours here and there, but nothing feels outright extraneous, and all the material has something to contribute to the overall product.
The three remaining tracks form the real meat of the EP, and while “Ape Speed” is certainly no slouch with its firm 6/8 groove and trippy bass solo, the nearly 7-minute “Long Time” serves as the unmistakable centerpiece of the whole thing. It’s easily the best thing Guava Tree has written to date, and encapsulates everything they do well in one expansive and far-reaching song. The chorus is a perfectly simple yet effective earworm, repeating the same line of “I haven’t felt this way / for a long time” as the song morphs around it, and the changing music and Johnson’s increasingly tense delivery casts that one easy-to-digest phrase in several different lights over the course of the track. The entire band is in peak form across “Long Time”, with percussionist Dan Fields in particular adding a lot to the ever-shifting rhythms and providing a whole other dimension to Gary Ashcroft’s drumming. Still, at the end of the day Johnson’s vocals remain the star of the show, especially the pulse-pounding climax of the track. If the notion of a psychedelic rock tune that skirts into power-pop, switches over to reggae, then finishes with honest-to-goodness post-hardcore-inspired harsh vocals
sounds like an absolute catastrophe, rest assured that it plays out totally naturally. The pieces fit together flawlessly, and it ends up being a combination of styles I could have never predicted sounding as good together as they do.
Given how young this band is, it’s understandable that they do still fall shy of perfection here. The poem recited on “Through the Looking Glass” teeters on the verge of pretense- personally, I don’t mind it, but those with a low tolerance for very earnestly expressed new-age spirituality might find it more eyeroll-inducing than eye-opening. “Someday” also makes for a fairly underwhelming end to the EP, and it definitely comes off a bit worse for having to follow up “Long Time” (in all fairness, a tough act to top). The interconnected, short ‘n’ sweet nature of the release makes these relatively minor nitpicks tougher to overlook, too, since there’s not a ton of other material here to compensate. Even with these flaws, though, this EP manages to demonstrate not only Guava Tree's skill as songwriters and musicians, but their ability to create a project that's self-contained, cohesive and satisfying all on its own. If you’re looking for a bite-sized piece of weird yet accessible psychedelia, this one comes highly recommended.