Posted in Whathaveyou on June 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
As he continues to support the solo album Leave Me Alone (streamed here) released under the moniker of Nick Oliveri and the Uncontrollable, the persistently raucous Oliveri is set to embark in July on a month-plus of European touring, acoustic style. This incarnation of the former Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age bassist — whose resumé also includes The Dwarves, his own Mondo Generator and a slew of contributions to others, up to and including Vista Chino — is dubbed Death Acoustic after a 2009 album of the same name (review here), and Oliveri will begin the tour with a slot at the Stoned from the Underground festival in Erfurt, Germany.
Still not sure what’s up with Oliveri‘s rumored collaboration with Wino in Royale Daemons, but when and if I hear of anything in that regard I’ll let you know. In the meantime, the PR wire brought this announcement:
Nick Oliveri embark on summer acoustic tour across Europe in support of his new album Leave Me Alone, dates and festival appearances announced.
Nick Oliveri is one of the most dexterous and versatile journeyman musicians in the underground rock scene. His work with such bands as Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age and Mondo Generator has made him an iconic figure in the heavy music scene while his persona as long time Dwarves bassist Rex Everything and current bass playing duties with newly reformed hardcore act Bl’ast have anchored him as a force to be reckoned with in the punk/hardcore realm. His songwriting has appeared in landmark albums such as Wretch and Blues For The Red Sun (Kyuss) and Rated R and Songs For The Deaf (Queens Of The Stone Age).
His body of work and catalog is vast and respectable with contributions to such artists as Turbonegro, Eagles Of Death Metal, Mark Lanegan Band, Winnebago Deal, Rollins Band, Masters of Reality and the legendary Desert Sessions recordings.
From July till mid August, Nick will be travelling across the Old World on a special acoustic tour in support of his latest release entitled Leave Me Alone that was recorded by his new project and debut solo effort (he literally played every instrument on the album, minus some guest appearances) called Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable. The tour kicks off in Erfurt (Germany) at the long running Stoned From The Underground festival alongside the likes of Electric Wizard, his old friend John Garcia, Radio Moscow and Danava and concludes August 16th at Leperfest (Belgium) where he’ll share the stage with hardcore icons Sick Of It All, doom pioneers Pentagram, and cult-like Brujeria.
He’s coined the name of his acoustic tours as “Death Acoustic” tours and they’ve always been an intimate experience with him and his fans, where he ‘s known to interact with the audience directly in the middle and between songs throughout the his sets, take requests and invite the whole audiences to get involved with the set, rowdy or not!
Full list of dates:
July 10th: Stoned From The Underground Festival (Erfurt, GER) July 11th: Panic Room (Essen, GER) July 12th: Fleece (Bristol, UK) July 13th: Gypsy Rose (Dublin, UK) July 14th: Voodoo (Bellfast, UK) July 15th: Audio (Glasgow, UK) July 16th: Portland Arms (Cambridge, UK) July 17th: The Corporation (Sheffield, UK) July 18th: The Boston Music Room (London, UK) July 19th: Moon Club (Cardiff, UK) July 20th: Glazart (Paris, France) July 21st: Le Ferrailleur (Nantes, France) July 22nd: TBC July 23rd: Raindogs (Savona, Italy) July 24th: Sunride Festival (Pesaro, Italy) July 25th: Zara Spiaggia Bar (Pescara, Italy) July 26th: Nano Verde (Follonica, Italy) July 27th: Festa Dell’ Unita (Canonica, Italy) July 28th: Freak Out Club (Bologna, Italy) July 29th: Parco Della Musica (Padova, Italy) July 30th: Vintage Industrial Bar (Zagreb, Croatia) August 1st: Viper Room (Vienna, Austria) August 3rd: Backstage (Munich, GER) August 4th: Rockhouse (Salzburg, Austria) August 5th: Jagerklause (Berlin, GER) August 6th: Ostpol (Dresden, GER) August 7th: La Casa (Cottbus, GER) August 8th: TBA (Bucarest, Romania) August 9th: Chez Heinz (Hannover, GER) August 10th: Hafenklang (Hamburg, GER) August 11th: DB’s (Utrecht, NL) August 12th: Gebr De Nobel (Leiden, NL) August 13th: De Pul (Uden, NL) August 14th: The Lane (Oostburg, NL) August 15th: De Hip (Deventer, NL) August 16th: Leperfest (Leper, Belgium)
Leave Me Alone by Nick Oliveri’s Uncontrollable is out now on both regular LP/CD and collectible leather sleeve LP through Schnitzel Records and is available for streaming at the linkhere.
Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (1998/2011)
I try not to write about Queens of the Stone Age too often. They’re kind of a given. But every now and then I break out their 1998 self-titled debut, and sometimes there’s just nothing else that will do. As we head into a summery-feeling weekend after a long, chaotic, but still really good week, it’s one of those moments when this record fits perfectly and it feels like as long as I keep it on the sun will stay up.
Now 16 years old and every bit the snotnosed punk, Queens of the Stone Age‘s Queens of the Stone Age was Josh Homme‘s first real outing as a frontman. Yeah, they had done the split with his former band, the desert rock pioneers Kyuss, and the Gamma Ray recordings, but it was these songs that really first shone the light on his vocals — and in hindsight how much he was really feeling his way through becoming a singer — and the approach and style of lyric-writing that would become a staple over the course of QOTSA‘s albums, influencing more bands worldwide than anyone could reasonably be asked to count and bridging the generally mile-wide gap between underground and commercial viability. To listen to “Mexicola” or “You Would Know” or “Avon” now, it’s nowhere near as elaborate as the band’s sound would become — Homme is the sole remaining founder, he sang and played bass and guitar on the self-titled while Alfredo Hernandez (also Kyuss, Yawning Man) drummed — but the songwriting is still waiting for something to stand up to it more than a decade and a half later.
There are those who are Kyuss loyalists, and with the back and forth legal action and animosity between ex-member camps, get caught up in some argument of who’s right and who’s wrong and whatever. I’m not into picking one or the other and to choose sides and only listen to Queens of the Stone Age or Kyuss or Vista Chino or Brant Bjork or John Garcia seems to me a silly way of denying yourself good music on either end. The self-titled Queens of the Stone Age is a record that I’ve listened to and loved for years. To me, that seems more important than whatever litigation may or may not be undertaken.
Hope you enjoy. Note: This is the 2011 reissue version, so you get “The Bronze,” “These aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For” and “Spiders and Vinegaroons” in addition to the original tracklist.
I had that record on last night on the tail end of the ride back to Massachusetts from New Jersey. If you noticed a general lack of posts this week as compared to “normal,” it’s because The Patient Mrs. and I were back and forth a lot, seeing family and friends and trying to get in as much quality time as possible. Also my car broke down and that added some measure of complication. Whatever. Point is it all worked out and I’m pretty sure that had I not been singing along to “If Only” last night at the time, I’d have driven right into the median on I-93.
Before I put the laptop down and go to the grocery store to pick up dinner makings, I want to extend one more tremendous thank you to Diane Farris of Jersey City’s legendary WFMU for having me on her show yesterday afternoon. It was such an unbelievable pleasure to be there and to pick tracks and get to talk about music and this site on the air. If you didn’t hear it, the full playlist, comment board and audio archive is available here: http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/55937
Diane’s Kamikaze Fun Machine is on every Thursday from 12PM-3PM, and she does her Peer Pressure guest segments from 1PM on. Obviously I recommend listening.
Thanks as well to everyone who checked that out yesterday and left a comment to say hi or ask a question. It felt extra awesome to know people I knew were taking part in the show and hopefully enjoying doing so. Made me miss doing radio, which is something I haven’t really felt since I graduated college a decade ago.
Next week, reviews of Godflesh and the new split between Naam and Black Rainbows and White Hills and The Flying Eyes, as well as Deville‘s stop in Worcester and maybe a C.O.C. interview if it comes together in time. I’ve got some emailing to do to put that together, but I’m working on it.
Hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Reviews on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’d never seen Queens of the Stone Age before. Had plenty of chances to, for sure, but I was always worried that going to a show would make me like the band less. It wasn’t until earlier this year when I sat, transfixed, and watched the online broadcast of the band playing the entirety of 2013’s …Like Clockwork (review here) as well as other selections from their catalog that I finally said to myself, “Well maybe now’s the time.” The band around guitarist/vocalist Josh Homme — guitarist/backing vocalist Troy Van Leeuwen (who seems to set a standard of wardrobe for the others to match), guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita, bassist Michael Shuman and drummer Jon Theodore — sounded so tight and the …Like Clockwork material was so dead-on to how it came across on the album, I decided that at the risk of coming out of it less of a fan of the band than I went in and generally not liking arena shows either as a concept or reality, it was worth showing up.
That was back in May. This past cold Friday night at Boston University’s Agganis Arena found Queens of the Stone Age no less righteous in their execution, most especially of the newer songs, but also in general. They put on a crisp, professional-grade show. Opening act The Kills were chic enough that I felt like a hick looking at a magazine ad for a product I couldn’t afford and that almost certainly wouldn’t fit anyway, but another example of the malleable nature of a Stooges influence if nothing else, though vocalist Alison Mosshart‘s strut was pure Jagger more than Iggy Pop, so take that for what it’s worth in my assessment of influence. There were four percussionists behind them — so far away on a big arena stage — but a drum machine going as well, which I didn’t understand, but whatever. I’m not sure they were doing anything rhythmically that a single drummer or two wouldn’t have been able to handle, but the contrast of spectacle with minimalism seemed to be part of the fun. Fair enough.
Not my thing as much as I have one, but neither am I inclined to call a dogwhistle broken just because I can’t hear it. To The Kills‘ credit, they managed to bring an intimate vibe — albeit one highly stylized — to a venue that boasts of holding 7,200 people. In that sense, they served well to warm up the crowd for Queens of the Stone Age, who arrived on stage following a 60-second countdown and launched their set with a firm one-two-three punch in “You Think I ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire” and “No One Knows” from 2002’s Songs for the Deafand plunging into the upbeat first single from …Like Clockwork, “My God is the Sun,” arguably the most “desert rock” moment on the latest album and a decent fit alongside the older material for its forward rush and sand-dune thematic. Not surprisingly, “No One Knows,” which was arguably the mega-single that broke the band commercially, garnered a huge response.
As one would have to expect with its relevance and commercial success, …Like Clockworkfeatured heavily in the set, with eight of the total 10 tracks being aired — only “I Appear Missing” and opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” were shelved, much to my dismay in the case of the former — and as it would have to, that came at the expense of other songs. Can’t do “Mexicola” if you’re doing “If I Had a Tail.” No room for “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” if you want to push “Smooth Sailing.” Fine. As huge as the record was, I couldn’t really begrudge the Elvis-wiggling Homme and the rest of the band wanting to play new songs. If I wanted to see “Mexicola,” maybe I should’ve showed up a decade ago when I was hemming and hawing about it — or, you know, two years ago when they toured playing that whole album in honor of the reissue. And both “Monsters in the Parasol” and “Better Living through Chemistry” from 2000’s sophomore outing, RatedR,were included, so there was a nod to the beginnings of the band there.
“Better Living through Chemistry” was especially potent in its druggy and meandering way, snapped back to reality at the end as an early example of the scope of Homme‘s songwriting. At the show, it followed after “Fairweather Friends,” a highlight cut from …Like Clockwork‘s B-side not the least because of Sir Elton John‘s guest appearance, which in turn was positioned after “Make it wit Chu” and “Sick, Sick, Sick” from 2007’s Era Vulgaris. Kind of a strange sequence there, but I wouldn’t argue if you told me that was the whole point. Though it was more subdued, the progression of “…Like Clockwork” into Lullabies to Paralyze(2005) brooder “I Never Came” made sense as it started to pick up into “If I Had a Tail,” but “Kalopsia” might’ve been the high point of the whole night. The band more or less sounds like it was constructed in order to be able to pull off that track. I know that’s not the case — Van Leeuwen and Shuman have been on board for years, even if Fertita and Theodore are relatively new — but that’s how it sounded. And of course they nailed it, even down to the dreamy midsection peppered with lighthearted delivery of the song’s title. All systems functional.
When they kicked into “Go with the Flow” to put the cap on the pre-encore portion of the set, the charge was so fast that I didn’t even recognize it at the first line. That could’ve been an effect of where I was sitting, but I managed to catch up before the verse kicked in. That would wind up being the final highlight, as the encore of “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” an extended “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and “A Song for the Dead” seemed uneven. Maybe it was the immediate jump from Homme sitting at a piano asking, “Does anyone ever get this right?” to namedropping drugs that didn’t quite work, but Queens of the Stone Age seemed to be working off two different impulses — one a mature arena rock professional delivery, cold if ably done — and the other a more chaotic and dangerous entity, stumbling around stage and assaulting with feedback, drawling out a chorus of “Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol.” I felt like I was at Sesame Street trying to puzzle through “one of these is not like the other.”
Of course, when “A Song for the Dead” kicked in, it didn’t matter. Standing on top a short stack of amplifiers, Homme was every bit stewing in the wash of noise the band created, and the rush was irresistible; despite the size of the room, the space on the stage, the “no bags” rule at the Agganis Arena and anything else, there was an element of danger that had reared its head a couple times throughout. Then the show was over and it was time to go sit in the underground parking lot for half an hour waiting to make my way back to Comm Ave. I was still home before midnight, and no less a fan of the band than when I’d left.
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.
I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.
That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.
Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:
20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door
Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.
For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockworkto be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.
Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Wardemerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Wardfor repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.
There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.
If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earthwas palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned(review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.
Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III(review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.
It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarialis to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.
Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky(review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morningwasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Musewas a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Belowinto a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.
When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of PaleDivine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood
One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Floodshowed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade — is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lustin terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Controlreally made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.
From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peacewith the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.
The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.
Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrolsuch a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrolwas a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrolwas that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was just so damn good to have them be weird again.
Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rockerwas going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodusand 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rockerwas huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rockerwill deliver for years to come.
The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions
I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:
21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire
Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand Sandrider.
Two More Special Records
I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacierby Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.
Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.
If Man’s Ruin Records had never put anything else out, the 1997 Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age split would still make them legendary. The end of one era and the beginning of another. Of course, Man’s Ruin did put out a ton of other landmark albums from the likes of Acid King, Dozer, Alabama Thunderpussy and on and on, but to have the last Kyuss tracks and the first Queens of the Stone Age tracks on the same disc gives the split a momentous feel in hindsight. Josh Homme had put out the Gamma Ray 7″ in ’96, and Queens would go on to include the track “18 A.D.” on Roadrunner Records‘ Burn One Up: Music for Stoners compilation (discussed here) in 1998, but the three tracks on this split — “If Only Everything,” “Born to Hula” and “Spiders and Vinegaroons” — were the first to surface under the moniker.
And until John Garcia and Brant Bjork picked back up with Kyuss Lives! and continued into Vista Chino, the jamming cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Into the Void” and the two “Fatso Forgotso” tracks (both of which were included on 2000’s Muchas Gracias: The Best of Kyuss, the second under the title “Flip the Phase”) were the last of Kyuss‘ studio output. So yeah, something of a landmark. It was more the grooves of the thing itself than the historical aspect that made me want to round out the week with it, but I figured if the thing can be appreciated on multiple levels, that rarely hurts the actual listening experience.
Next week, look out for a new podcast, a review of that Clutch show and hopefully one for It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Olde Growth and company on Sunday night in Boston — I’m going to Connecticut during the day, but provided I get back in time will hit up the show — and then a look at the new Horisont and Sandrider albums, as well as more in the “10 Days of Stoner Hands of Doom XIII” coverage, including a video premiere provided it comes together as scheduled and some words about the new Druglord tape, which is duly fucked up-sounding. I also took a poll today on Thee Facebooks to name a new vinyl column, so On Wax will start next week too.
Much to come, in other words.
Hope you have a great and safe weekend. See you back here Monday and in the meantime, please check out the forum and radio stream.
Posted in Features on June 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is always fun, and because the year’s only (just about) half over, you always know there’s more to come. The last six months have brought a host of really stellar releases, and the whole time, it’s felt like just when you’ve dug your heels into something and really feel content to rest with it for a while, there’s something else to grab your ears. So it’s been for the last six months, bouncing from one record to the next.
Even now, I’ve got a list of albums, singles, EPs, tapes, demos, whatever, waiting for attention — some of which I’m viciously behind on — but it’s time to stop and take a look back at some of what the best of the first half of 2013 has been. Please note, I’m only counting full-lengths here. While I’ve heard a few killer EPs this year — looking at you, Mars Red Sky — it doesn’t seem fair to rate everything all together like that. Maybe a separate list.
If you’ve got a list of your own or some quibbling on the numbers, please leave a comment and be heard. From where I sit, that’s always the best part of this kind of thing.
The third Endless Boogie album on No Quarter was basically the soundtrack to the end of my winter, with smooth grooving cuts like “The Artemus Ward” and the classic rock shake of “On Cryology” providing a soundtrack as cool as the air in my lungs. It was my first experience with the longform-jamming improv-heavy foursome, and a CD I’m still stoked to put on and get lost in, having found that it works just as well in summer’s humidity as winter’s freeze, the off-the-cuff narrations of Paul Major (interview here) carrying a vibe unmistakably belonging to the rock history of the band’s native New York City. Was a sleeper, but not one to miss for its organic and exploratory feel.
Proffering righteous traditional doom and misery-drenched atmospherics, the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based Magic Circle hit hard and showed there’s life yet to the old ways. It never quite veered into the cultish posturing that comprises so much of the trad doom aesthetic these days, and from the grandiose riffing of guitarists Dan Ducas and Chris Corry and the blown-out vocals of frontman Brendan Radigan, it found the band carving a memorable identity for themselves with clear sonic ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. Out of all the bands on this list, I’m most interested to hear what Magic Circle do next to build on their debut.
Berlin trio Kadavar had a tough task ahead of them in releasing a sophomore answer to their self-titled, which I thought was the best first album of 2012, but when Abra Kadavar surfaced as their debut on Nuclear Blast, it was quickly apparent that the retro heavy rockers had put together a worthy follow-up. Cuts like “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” underscored the straightforward triumphs of the prior outing, while late-album arrivals “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” gave a sense that Kadavar were beginning a journey into psychedelia the results of which could be just as rewarding as even the most potent of their choruses. Their potential remains one of their biggest appeals.
It wasn’t without its rough edges, but at the core of Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s fourth record was an unflinching songwriting quality that quickly established it among my go-to regulars, whether it was the quirky doom hook of “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” the darkly progressive riffing of “Black Black Heart” or the suitably propulsive rush of “This Train Won’t Stop.” The double-guitar four-piece didn’t have much time for frills in terms of arrangement or structure, but by building on the developments over the course of their three prior releases, Devil to Pay delivered a slab of deceptively intricate standouts that made hard turns sound easy and demanded the attention it deserved.
6. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Unfuckwithable tone set to destructive purpose. Immediately upon hearing the unsung Michigan drum/guitar duo’s fourth album, the impact of The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below — overwhelming though it is at times throughout the album; hello, “Oncoming Avalanche” — refused to be denied. Beast in the Field haven’t gotten anything remotely close to the attention they should for this devastating collection, but it’s one I absolutely can’t put down, cohesive in theme and full of skull-caving riffs as dynamic as they are brutally delivered by the instrumental twosome. If it’s one you missed on CD when Saw Her Ghost put it out in March (as I did), keep your eyes open for a vinyl release coming on Emetic in the next couple months. Really. Do it.
Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid quickly dispatched any doubts of their ability to continue on after the departure of their previous guitarist/vocalist, bassist Dave Gein and drummer Clay Neely joined forces with Darryl Shepard (Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, Roadsaw, etc.) to reinvigorate their battle-ready doom, and whether it was the extended jamming on “Swing the Scimitar” or the surprisingly smooth riffing on “Aphelion,” the results did not disappoint. Regardless of personnel, I’ve yet to hear a Black Pyramid album I didn’t want to hear again, and though I’ll freely admit they’re a sentimental favorite for me at this point, Adversarial is a suitable dawn for their next era. Long may they reign.
True, I will argue tooth and nail that Boston four-piece Gozu should get rid of their goofball, sitcom-referential song titles, but that’s only because I believe the band’s lack of pretense speaks for itself through the music and their tracks are too good to give listeners a chance not to take them seriously. When it comes to The Fury of a Patient Man — their second full-length behind the impressive 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) — I knew the first time I heard it toward the end of last year that it was going to be one of 2013’s best, and while I’ve heard quibbles in favor of the debut, nothing has dissuaded me from thinking the sophomore installment outclasses it on almost every level. Expect a return appearance when the year-end list hits in December.
There’s a big part of me that feels like a sucker for digging …Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age full-length since 2007’s relatively lackluster Era Vulgaris, but when it comes right down to it, I hit the point in listening to the album that I came around to its sheen, its up-and-down moodiness and its unabashed self-importance. I hit the point where I was able to separate …Like Clockwork from its “viral marketing” and just enjoy Josh Homme‘s all-growed-up songwriting for what it is. Would I have loved a second self-titled album? Probably, but it wasn’t realistic to think that’s what …Like Clockwork would be, and as much as I’ve tried out other spots for it, I’d be lying if I put this record anywhere else on this list but here. So there you go. I understand the arguments against it, but reason doesn’t always apply when it comes to what gets repeat spins.
I was late to the party on the second Uncle Acid offering, 2011’s Blood Lust, as I often am on records where the hype gets to din levels, but by the time the subsequent Mind Control was announced, I knew it was going to be one to watch out for. Aligned to Rise Above/Metal Blade, the UK outfit began to unravel till-then mystery of itself, playing live and developing the brazen psychedelic pop influences hinted at in the horrors of Blood Lust so that the swing of “Mt. Abraxas” and the acid-coated psych of “Valley of the Dolls” could exist within the same cohesive sphere. Between the death-boogie of “Mind Crawler” and mid-period Beatlesian exploration of “Follow the Leader,” Mind Control continues to be an album I hear as much on the mental jukebox rotation as one I actually put on to listen to again. Either way, there’s no getting away from it — the eerie melodies of guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger are hauntingly ever-present.
Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. To set the scene, here’s me on the Masspike a couple weeks ago in the Volvo of Doom™ with the little dog Dio, 90 miles an hour shouting along to “Crucial Velocity” at the top of my never-on-key lungs. I couldn’t and wouldn’t endeavor to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Earth Rocker since I first got a taste, but from the title-track on through the surging groove at the end of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” front to back, the 10th Clutch album still does not fail to roil the blood with not a dud in the bunch. The Maryland road dogs of course shine best on a stage, and Earth Rocker‘s polished, layered production is a studio affair in the truest sense, but all that does is make me hopeful they’ll complement it with a live record soon. Clutch could easily have phoned in a follow-up to 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West and their fanbase probably would’ve still salivated over it, myself included, but by boldly pushing themselves to write faster, more concise material, they’ve reenergized one of heavy rock’s best sounds. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a brand new listener, Earth Rocker is utterly essential.
Two more records I have to mention: Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting and Clamfight‘s I vs. the Glacier. I wasn’t involved in releasing the Kings Destroy, but felt close to it nonetheless, and since the Clamfight came out on The Maple Forum, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in the list proper, but hands down, these are my two favorite records of the year so far and made by some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to know over the course of my years nerding out to heavy music.
Some other honorable mentions go to Toner Low, Cathedral, Church of Misery, Serpent Throne, Naam, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and All Them Witches. Like I said, it’s been a hell of a year so far.
You may note some glaring absences in the list above — Black Sabbath, ASG, Orchid, Ghost, Kvelertak and Voivod come to mind immediately. Some of that is a result of my disdain for digital promos, and some of that is just a matter of what I listened to most. Please understand that although release profile is not something discounted, at the heart of what’s included here is one individual’s personal preferences and listening habits.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to your own lists and to the next six months to come!
Posted in Reviews on June 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There is an impressive slew of narratives surrounding the release of …Like Clockwork, the first studio album from Queens of the Stone Age in the six years since 2007’s Era Vulgaris and first for new label home, Matador Records. First, the jump from Interscope led some to speculate in advance if, freed from the perceived creative restraints of working with a major label, Queens of the Stone Age and the band’s auteur, guitarist, vocalist, principal songwriter and figurehead Joshua Homme — once upon a time the six-stringer for Kyuss — might return to the tonally thicker, more stripped down desert feel of the outfit’s earliest works, principally their first two albums, 1998’s Queens of the Stone Age and 2000’s Rated R, which in combination with 2002’s landmark Songs for the Deafpairing with drummer Dave Grohl have become a gospel influence for a league of heavy rockers in the decade since. It’s a nice thought, but unrealistic. Homme, even if he was remotely interested in such a stylistic turn away from the vibe of Era Vulgarisor the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, likely couldn’t capture the same tones and atmospheres. Different time, different equipment, different personnel, different interests. Like Clockwork(you’ll forgive me if I remove the ellipses for sentence flow) was never going to be that album. Second, it’s Homme‘s first Queens of the Stone Age outing since Them Crooked Vultures, and the time since Era Vulgarismarks it out as a return to the band, put on hiatus in the wake of touring for fifth full-length in 2009. They also toured in 2011 around a reissue of the self-titled. Not a reunion, then, but a return. Third, a near-death experience following complications from leg surgery that plays into a questioning of mortality in several of the lyrics, arguably most of all the penultimate “I Appear Missing.” Fourth, with recording sessions begun in 2011 and completed in 2012, it was executed smack in the middle of a well-publicized lawsuit that pitted Homme and former bassist Scott Reeder against former Kyuss bandmates JohnGarcia, Nick Oliveri— who seems to have extracted himself from the situation entirely, though he guests on Like Clockworkon the song “If I Had a Tail” — and Brant Bjork over the use of the band’s name; an action that resulted in Kyuss Lives! becoming Vista Chino for the release of their forthcoming debut. Many of the lyrics here to cuts like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory,” “Fairweather Friends,” and “Kalopsia” — some of Like Clockwork‘s moodiest and most effective moments — could easily be read to reflect the conflicting emotions of that lawsuit. Whether or not they’re actually concerned with it at all is another matter entirely, but it’s an interpretation that could fit as well as any number of others.
Another matter entirely is the profile of the release. Where Era Vulgarisseemed a step backward in the band’s and in Homme‘s rock stardom, Like Clockworkarrives with increased prestige thanks to a number of factors, among them the return/continuation of a collaboration with Grohl, who played on most of the songs here after the departure of drummer Joey Castillo, as well as appearances from Trent Reznor (who was also on the last album), Sir Elton John, Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters, the always-welcome Mark Lanegan, new live drummer Jon Theodore (ex-Mars Volta) on the closing title-track and Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. Coupled with a pervasive and intimidating viral and social media marketing campaign that capitalized both in the aesthetic strength of graphic artist Boneface‘s artwork for the album in a series of short films and on the perceived laissez-faire attitude of Homme‘s persona that instead of the guy who sweated out a year-plus writing and recording this material, he’d be the guy who, when Elton John called and said he “needed an actual queen” in the band, would answer, “Honey, you have no idea,”as well as “event”-type live performances in advance support of the release partnered with outlets like NPR and The Late Show with David Letterman, this has made the fanfare extensive, multi-tiered and as modern as the sound of the album itself, which is no less complex or dynamic. Of the sundry stories, the one that has yet to be established so far as I’ve seen is that which has the most to do with the actual music contained on Like Clockwork‘s 10 tracks — namely that this is the record that confirms Queens of the Stone Age as the band that will age with Homme. There’s nothing about the material here that Homme couldn’t sustain, build on and revisit as his whims dictate for the remainder of his career. In short, in coming back to the band that made his career (as influential as Kyuss has been in the years since, during their time together, they were more or less a commercial nonentity) , Josh Homme has set a formula he could feasibly work with for the rest of it. The model, as they say in business, is sustainable. More over, Like Clockwork proves Homme is a strong enough presence on the album to be roughly the only factor tying it together, since although band members Troy Van Leeuwen (guitar), Michael Shuman (bass) and Dean Fertita (keys/guitar) make consistent appearances, the surrounding swirl of people on and off the record and the bipolar nature of the record’s atmosphere is such that it’s basically Homme at the center keeping it from falling apart.
That in itself is a critical narrative and a very specific reading of the album that not everyone will agree with or be interested in when it comes to listening. So be it. The fact remains that as the sunny side A opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” — which is an immediate lurking threat built on rumbling low end tension — transitions into the upbeat bop of the subsequent “I Sat by the Ocean” — sad lyrically but musically uptempo and lighter feeling — Homme is the constant, and he’s able to successfully steer these songs in a number of directions without sacrificing a sense of mastery. Songwriting is credited to Queens of the Stone Age as a whole but for the closer, which Homme shares with that song’s co-producer James Lavelle and Charlie May and “Fairweather Friends,” which is credited to the band and Mark Lanegan, and definitely other contributions stand out, most notably Grohl‘s drums, Reznor‘s vocals and Elton John‘s piano and vocals, but Homme nonetheless emerges at the fore and is the driving force within the tracks. He gives, specifically on “Fairweather Friends,” the performance of his career vocally. Throughout, his voice is fluid in moving into and out of falsetto, and in stepping up his game — presumably one does not have Sir Elton appear on one’s album and then half-ass it — he draws a continuity between tracks that Era Vulgariswas lacking and that still sounds less uniform than most of 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze. There are missteps along the way in the lyrics to “If I Had a Tail,” which remains a catchy, well-written song that shows obvious awareness of its dopey premise but has one all the same, and “…Like Clockwork” itself, which feels overdone with Homme nonetheless effectively crooning out a comedown epilogue following the album’s apex in “I Appear Missing,” but in terms of the song craft, there are few acts who can so ably bring any sense of looming danger at all to material still considered commercially viable, and Like Clockworkwouldn’t have received the substantial push it has if somebody along the line didn’t think it was going to sell. Those who continue to lament the split post-Songs for the Deafwith Nick Oliveri, who to that point was the most substantial (or at least the most visible) contributor to the songwriting apart from Homme won’t find much solace. There’s next to no screaming, and the edge that still seems so sharp on those early albums has been irrevocably smoothed in the production and the arrangements, but the broader audience that Queens of the Stone Age was able to reach over the years who’ve followed them through Lullabies to Paralyzeand Era Vulgaris will have no such qualms in handling the up-and-down/back-and-forth/manic-depressive tradeoffs the band makes across Like Clockwork‘s 46 minutes.
Its two sides themselves stand somewhat in opposition overall, but the real rollercoaster on a track-by-track basis, as the aforementioned “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” launches the album with a sense of moody fearfulness, start-stop guitar peppering steady bass and low end rhythm while flourishes of piano add a classic feel and Homme‘s vocals play into the theme, returning to the lines, “If life is but a dream/Wake me,” more insistent than melancholy, though that vibe is present as well in the music, whereas “I Sat by the Ocean” answers back with an immediately more engaging, pop sensibility, a more blatant hook, and friendlier feel. Castillo — who plays on the first two tracks, the subsequent “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and side B opener “Kalopsia” — is well suited to the track’s straightforward push, and the interplay of Homme and Van Leeuwen on guitar amid the handclaps of the bridge only enhances the spirited feel, opening to more keys in a pretty chorus that’s too smooth to be live-sounding, but not wholly unnatural either. It’s with “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” that Like Clockwork unveils the chiaroscuro at the center of its methodology, pulling the listener into a depressive sinkhole with a simple piano line, lyrical tales of insecurity, vulnerability and falling apart, a bluesy solo deep in the mix that’s a short but effective cue, and a linear build that plays out gracefully as the verses and choruses trade between them. Homme asks, “Does anyone ever get this right?” even as he touts some level of naive triumph in the lines, “You think the wost of all is far behind/The vampire of time and memories has died/I survived/Hooray,” but there’s no real sense of hope conveyed and it’s the questioning that serves as the takeaway impression. That makes “If I Had a Tail” — Oliveri‘s return on bass, Grohl on drums, Lanegan and Tuner joining Homme on vocals — a transitional middle-ground between “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” and side A finale “My God is the Sun,” and it’s a role the song plays well. Homme plays off bubblegum pop in the verse section “Gitchee gitchee/Oooh la la/Doo run run/You won’t get far,” still more hopeless than teasing, but not as outright miserable as on the previous cut, the song given an underlying sense of swagger from Grohl‘s drums and Oliveri‘s bass, which is relatively understated but works in a few choice fills before the would-be drama of the chorus “If I had a tail I’d own the night/If I had a tail I’d swat the flies” opens to a disco interlude and makes way for an attitude-laden guitar solo leading back to the verse. They repeat the cycle and build off the last chorus to a section of insistent “Uh huh”s and “oohs” — Lanegan most prominent here — as Grohl revels in closing and opening his hi-hat and the riff gets bigger and thicker to finish, cut right before a short lead line that appeared earlier returns to end, leading to some backwards sampling transitioning into the propulsive rocker, “My God is the Sun.”
I’ve been through this clip for Queens of the Stone Age‘s “I Appear Missing” a couple times now — a three-minute sample of what the interwebs tells me is a six-minute song. As someone who’s done probably more than his fair share of nerding out over the years for the work of Josh Homme, I guess it’s cool, but I’ve yet to hear anything in the actual music either in this track or the single “My God is the Sun” that’s got me really on board the dorkwagon for …Like Clockwork, the band’s first studio outing since 2007’s Era Vulgaris. After a certain point, I start to feel like the problem is my expectation and not the songs themselves. What the fuck did I think was coming?
Anyway, this one’s a little moodier than “My God is the Sun,” which was catchy and upbeat. Whoever’s gonna like it is gonna like it and whoever isn’t gonna like it isn’t gonna like it. I hate to think of myself as falling in the middle ground. Case of the sonic Mondays. Or maybe the song’s a downer and it’s got me down. Working that magic. You know how it is. Maybe I never liked rock and roll that much in the first place, or maybe I just feel like a tool feeding into a viral marketing campaign. Whatever.
Video and PR wire info:
Following the cryptic surfacing of thehttp://www.likeclockwork.tv/ and its hazy semi-clues and last night’s Adult Swim ad, Queens Of The Stone Age have unveiled a trailer scored by three minutes of the never-before-heard “I Appear Missing,” which appears in its entirety on the band’s upcoming … Like Clockwork, out June 4 on Matador Records.
Showcasing disturbingly beautiful (or beautifully disturbing?) images from the boundless imagination of … Like Clockwork visual visionary, enigmatic UK artist Boneface (brought to life by animator Liam Brazier), “I Appear Missing” is a hypnotic journey into a nightmare-scape that adds illustrative dimension to another audio glimpse of the coming storm that is … Like Clockwork. Keep Your Eyes peeled onhttp://www.likeclockwork.tv/to see what happens next…
Described by Queens principal Joshua Homme as “an audio documentary of a manic year,” … Like Clockwork is the band¹s first full length collection of all new material since 2007’s Era Vulgaris, as well as its debut release on new label partner Matador. The record can be pre-ordered on CD and vinyl now fromhttp://smarturl.it/QOTSApreorderand from iTunes athttp://smarturl.it/QOTSAlikeclockwork. iTunes pre-orders will immediately receive “My God Is The Sun.”
… Like Clockwork was produced by Joshua Homme and QOTSA, recorded by Mark Rankin with additional engineering by Justin Smith, at Josh’s studio, Pink Duck, in Burbank, California.