Palm Reader

Magnetic Eye
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Ancient Aliens
02. Death Perception
03. Head Honcho
04. Palm Reader
05. Time Waster
06. Tuesday Night Blues
07. Solar Rain

If first impressions were any guide, one could assume that HIGH DESERT QUEEN were a classic, straight-ahead stoner rock band. "Palm Reader" begins with an unapologetic blast of sun-scorched amplifier abuse. "Ancient Aliens" is a ferocious and authoritative way to say hello, and with all their required space-doom maneuvers dispensed with in spectacular fashion, this Austin, TX quartet are immediately freed from genre shackles. No disrespect to straight-ahead stoner rock, of course. When it's done well, there are few better things to soundtrack a drive in the sunshine. Or the rain. HIGH DESERT QUEEN are exceptionally good at it too, and when "Palm Reader" rocks, it does so at full steam and with as much conviction as any of the genre's certified greats. What makes the band's second full-length more intriguing is the unexpected breadth of their electrified vision, and the versatility they employ to convey it.

Arriving with another giant desert rock riff, "Death Perception" is an exercise in atmospheric sleight-of-hand. Blessed with a mesmerizing cameo from GAUPA's Emma Näslund, it digs deep into HIGH DESERT QUEEN's doom roots, while also wading purposefully through gothic swamps and across post-rock plains. In contrast, "Head Honcho" is a burly, doom metal blues, hewn from scabrous sludge, dipped in psilocybin soup, and with a high speed, acid rock freakout thrown in for free. It builds to a crescendo of maximized space metal over nine minutes, exhibiting MONSTER MAGNET levels of epic bravado and space-bound self-belief.

Next, the title track adheres to a tighter, more traditional blues rock blueprint, slyly emanating ROBIN TROWER and PAT TRAVERS vibes, while pounding erratically along on a throbbing, thousand-yard-stare, STOOGES pulse. HIGH DESERT QUEEN have a gift for sounding utterly laidback and still delivering a telling punch or two: "Time Waster" is an impossible languorous stoner stomp, with singer Ryan Garney in bleary-eyed prophet mode, but when those CLUTCH-style grooves and impeccable riffs kick in, the Texans wield real power. When a blare of feedback ushers in another jam-driven detour, they do it in that disarmingly organic way that made KYUSS such a unique proposition back in the bonged-out day. Guitarist Rusty Miller's riotous, wildman soloing certainly doesn't hurt, either.

Elsewhere, the moonlit meanderings of "Tuesday Night Blues" say it all about HIGH DESERT QUEEN's elegant, dynamic approach: a poignant, slightly bleak monologue from Garney is regularly interrupted by a chunky, riff-driven refrain, before dissolving to a fog of feedback and souped-up bottom end that spirals off towards the desert sun. The closing "Solar Rain" is even more evocative, with its delicate first section, sudden shift into rampaging, all-cylinders space rock, and unhinged, steadily escalating squall of all-out, trad doom.

Cheerfully skittering all over the map, HIGH DESERT QUEEN have delivered upon the promise of first album "Secrets Of The Black Moon" and made the perfect summer of 2024 stoner soundtrack. Play it loud, as we all fucking fry.

Author: Dom Lawson
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