Desert Heat: Cat Mask at Huggie Temple

There's something instantly endearing about a release that restrainedly splits its vinyl sides between two long pieces of twelve- and fifteen-minute durations. Steve Gunn, John Truscinski, and Cian Nugent bring a similarly unfussy thinking to their debut Desert Heat twelve-inch, Cat Mask at Huggie Temple (issued in a run of 350 copies). The group project began inauspiciously, to put it mildly—their first public appearance was at a bowling alley, of all places, before a subsequent gig found them onstage at the Tusk Festival in Newcastle, UK. And though the recording is Desert Heat's debut, the group benefits from the rapport Steve and John developed through the music they produced under the Gunn-Truscinski Duo name. Including Irish acoustic guitarist Nugent obviously adds a whole other dimension to the outfit's improv-styled blend of cosmic folk, psychedelia, raga, blues, and rock.

The A-side's title cut is off and running from the opening bar, with the guitarists liberally weaving scrabbly, blues-soaked phrases over and under one another while Truscinski provides a supportive but not overly intrusive groove alongside them. There's a loose feel to the performance that suggests “Cat Mask at Huggie Temple” was laid down as a live in-studio jam, but it's not without structure, as an occasional motif emerges as a directional guide. Rather than alternate in too-polite manner, the guitarists instead play simultaneously throughout, a wise move that ensures the music never becomes boring or lacking in stimulation.

The group's Eastern leanings come into play during the meditative opening drone of “Chimay Blues” when the guitarists ruminate extemporaneously against a free flow of tom-tom accents. The piece builds organically from that relatively peaceful beginning into something more forceful, the guitarists' chiming lines growing ever more aggressive and the music gradually swelling to a crescendo that exudes power without going off the rails. The musicians sound so comfortable playing together, one imagines these live performances could have gone on for hours, and in that light the choice of a never-ending vista for the cover image begins to seem especially apt.

October 2013