When I think of Austria, the images that come to mind are the vast and scenic expanse of the Alps, those funny pants known as lederhosen, Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" and of course the governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I do not however, think of stoner rock...that is until now. That's right folks, there's something heavy emerging from the valley town of Innsbruck, Austria and its name is Sahara Surfers.
Now I have no idea how or why the band decided on their moniker, but upon hearing their debut album Spacetrip on a Paper Plane, the name starts to make more sense. You see, Sahara Surfers display a strong desert/fuzz rock influence in the vein of Southern California bands like Kyuss and Fu Manchu. So it seems strangely appropriate to take the name of the world's largest desert...the Sahara, combine it with one of Southern California's most popular "stoner" activities...surfing, and voilà, Sahara Surfers! At least that’s my theory.
But band names aside, these guys (and gal) have concocted a lean, mean album completely void of filler. With only six tracks, they waste no time getting down to business with album opener “Colour Jam”. The song features that wonderfully fuzzy Kyuss-like sound courtesy of Andi Knapp’s guitar work and due in no small part to the heavy low end created by Hans-Peter Ganner on bass and Michael Steingress on drums. In fact, the crash of Steingress’s cymbals on this song are absolutely deafening (Brant Bjork anyone?), and lend to the power and beauty of the overall experience. Track two, “Propeller” picks up right where the first one lets off, and features possibly the heaviest breakdown on the entire album.
But it’s the striking, haunting, almost masculine vocals of Julia Überbacher that helps Sahara Surfers stand out from their peers. When she sings “we’re fading away” on the album’s third track “Age”, you can feel the sorrow and sense of loss in her voice. With Julia’s underlying vocals playing the part of a fourth instrument, the band creates a delicate blend of heavy stoner riffage and pure emotion that has a decidedly indie rock feel to it. If Silversun Pickups decided to make a stoner rock record, this is what it might sound like.
The contrast is even more evident on “812” where a very Tool-like bass line is transformed into a pummeling groove that shifts Spacetrip on a Paper Plane into overdrive. This is the album’s signature track in my mind, as it perfectly defines what Sahara Surfers are all about. And on the following song, “Sister in Shade” the band resurrects the sound of yet another classic, yet sadly underappreciated alt-rock outfit known as Sugartooth (look ‘em up!). The album concludes with an epic number called “Gas” that finds Knapp laying down chill inducing guitar work while Julia rails against the war for oil...”like this your empire grows, let the bodies roll”. This song ends at the six minute mark and a cool little bluesy number shows up a few seconds later as a hidden track and ultimately brings the album to a close.
Spacetrip on a Paper Plane is a fantastic debut by a band that I will most certainly be keeping my eye on in the future. Put it on at your next party and watch as both your metalhead friends and your hipster buddies both come up and ask you what you’re playing. This is flat out good music…highly recommended.
01. Colour Jam
05. Sister in Shade
05. Sister in Shade