For a long time, stoner rock, or just the concept of stoner rock was dismissed by more mainstream types looking for their next quick fix. During this period though, and with the help of multiple friends and amazing musicians, Joshua Homme and his Queens of the Stone Age managed to not only propel quote unquote “Stoner Rock” to the next level,but become one of the finest rock bands currently active. Queens isn't full blown stoner though, and with each subsequent record they’ve becoming not only more sonically heavy, but also have managed to bring Desert, Palm Springs inspired rock to a level that most of the bands California natives haven’t managed to.
It all started with the eruption of the seminal desert rock band Kyuss. After the dissolution, Homme and fellow band member Nick Oliveri embarked on a new view of the world. The first album, which is self titled, dove into a little of what made Kyuss so special, but there was something else there. For one, people who loved Kyuss and who had never seen Homme as anything more than a drummer quickly realized that not only was Joshua a really good guitar player, but boy, did he have a voice. Not a traditional voice for the style of music, but I venture to guess that that's part of why the band stood out. Homme’s silky, elegant yet smoky voiced throat was able to give a new light to the genre, and with Oliveri on bass they were able to conceptualize a style that no one has been able to recreate.
One of the best things about the first album are the deep, embedded hooks throughout key tracks. “Avon” kicks like shotgun in a violent encounter, while “Mexicola” and “Give the Mule what he wants” both possess a funky opening that manages to get the job done with little urgency until the guitars come full strength and dominate the song. Hommes voice is also key here.
Even at this early stage the band was getting recognition, but it wouldn't be until a few key things happened off their second album that would truly set them on the road being a very well-known band. First, the video for “ the Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” started getting minimal airplay on music video channels (Those still existed way back when) and the band was asked to join that summer's Ozzfest tour. While the video was great and got the record into important hands of initiated fans, the Ozzfest thing never really seemed like a good fit. Pushed in alongside bands like Pantera, Deftones and Soulfly, it just clearly didn't mesh as well as it should have. Then, something really big happened..
With the release of their third album,”Songs for the Deaf,” everything started going right for them, at least commercially. For one, their live performances became the stuff of legends, especially with bassist Nick Oliveri giving his all, mentally and physically to unsuspecting crowds. This included, but wasn't limited to getting wasted and throwing bottles into the audience, and also just generally playing his ass off.
The record also included the first contributions from Dave Grohl. To say that his drumming helped the record along is an understatement. It took the bands craft and their notoriety to another level. It also didn’t hurt that the singles ended up being giant successes. “No one Knows” and the arguably better “Go with the Flow” became mainstays on rock radio, and it catapulted the album to big sales. They had officially arrived, and were finding bigger and bigger crowds every day who wanted to spread the love of QOTSA. So much of the positivity and success from that album comes from the material which was released. All of the songs are brilliant, and capture immediately the vibe of the best road record ever released. Even the non singles are killer tracks with explicit hooks that captivate you. “First it Giveth” hits the ground running, while the title track of the record is among the band's heaviest tracks ever. For me this album is a stark reminder of just how gnarly, but also nuanced the band can be. Sure, they’re in your face, but that’s not all they are. Future albums capture this vibe better than “Songs,” but over the course of this excellent, groundbreaking album, in my eyes at least, Queens of the Stone Age took one step closer to being the best rock and roll band of our day and age, which is a title i still believe they possess. With Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan, Jesse Hughes and various other contributing to the album, there’s almost no way it wouldn’t help the band.
Between the next albums though, much changed. Grohl was out, as was Oliveri, and although he never rejoined the band, Homme and he still remain friends. But anyway, next comes “Lullabies to Paralyze,” whose title is actually taken from the closing song of the previous album.
Paralyze is not only an appropriate album to follow up the smash of “Deaf,” but it’s also more balanced, less in your face, and gives the band new life. Joined by Alain johannes, Joey Castillo, and even that ZZ Top guy Billy Gibbons, “Paralyze “ has gutturall songs, but also some spooky tracks laid out that build and grow in ways previous tracks haven’t.
“Burn the Witch,” is an all time favorite, with its synced up drumming, ho hum vocal melody, and of course Homme’s signature croon laid deep in the mix. Many of the tracks here are also longer and more meandering at times than previous efforts. This album wasn’t the giant success that the previous album was, but it’s arguably better as a whole, while it certainly has moments that are better than any of their other records. One of my favorite things about the album as a whole though, is the slow, somber closing provided from the “Hidden Finale,” that comes after “Long Slow Goodbye.” It’s always reminded me of a funeral procession, as showcased in a black and white movie of the thirties. Even beyond that terrifying slow burn of the track, “traditional”rock anthems like lead single “Little Sister” also delivers scorching musical moments. I mean, seriously, the first time I heard “Sister” i was absolutely captivated at the proficiency in which Homme plays guitar.
This tour also highlights one of the single best concerts I’ve ever been to. Two of my favorite all time bands, Queens and Nine Inch Nails were going on tour together. Holy-fucking-shit. To say that that show was amazing is nearly pointless. Joined by fellow amazing artists’ Death From Above 1979, the tour was one for the ages, and was also the first in a long collaboration between Queens and Reznor(we’ll get to that later though).
Following a long tour full of seminal quotes and wonderful moments, the band took some time off to do other things, to varying degrees of success. The time wasn’t super long though, and by 2007 the band was back with a new record.
Now, among hardcore fans, “Era Vulgaris” is among the weaker of the albums released by the group, but in no way is that me saying it’s a shit record. It’s actually really good compared to other things that came out that year. It’s just not life changing for me in the way other records released by Queens had been. There’s still plenty to love about it though. “Turning on the Screw,” which opens the album is a perfect example of a band not being afraid to do what they want. The song isn’t in your face in the ways other opening tracks are, but the difference intone is obvious very early in the listening process of “Era.” Reznor appears again on the title track, while the hidden b side of “The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died” remains one of the best tracks never officially included on a record.Other songs rock too though. “Misfit Love” is a wild ride, while “3’s & 7’s” is a song full of bravado and build up until implosion, but what’s significant here is the usage of a song from what could loosely be called a side project.
For years, Homme and whoever else he can find had been releasing what they called “Desert Sessions,” which basically means whoever was available went down to the Joshua Tree studio Rancho de Luna and recorded weird, atypical music for the fun of it. Tons of people came through those sessions, including one Polly Jean Harvey, but anyway, a song from that showed up on a Queens record, and everyone loved it. The song “Make it Wit Chu” is a slow love filled romp in the hey, and finds the band scaling back the urgency for a pretty sweet overall song.
Over the next few years though, little happened with the band, unless you count a quick tour presenting the first album being played in its entirety. Apparently by the end of the tour the band was over it, and yeah, seems totally understandable. Anyway, a long time passed, which for a band riding high can be a deal breaker. It wasn’t without merit though. Homme, during a knee surgery, was technically dead for several minutes, and the long road back was marred by depression, injury and a lack of focus. It wasn’t until 6 years after the previous record that the next QOTSA record would be released. And thankfully, it didn't suck.
Not only didn’t it suck, but it was one of the best returns to music I’ve ever seen. In my years there’s no better album by the band than 2013’s “...Like Clockwork.” It's a masterpiece, and in many ways, would serve as a fitting parting gift, if the band decided to hang it up. Over the course of forty-six minutes, Homme not only manages to bring people into the world he’s been living in for a while, but he opens himself up to some of the more honest songwriting and pain acknowledgement he ever showed us.
Songs like the haunting ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” is still and frightening in a Polanski film short of way, while the song “My God is the Sun” is a mesmerizing example of brute force in the California desert. There’s not a bad song on the album, and that’s ultimately where strength comes from. Also great about the record is Homme’s ability to squeeze more guests into meaningful roles than most Rap stars can ever get to be on their records. Over the course of the ten songs we get guests spots from returning champions such as Grohl and Reznor, oliveri, Lanegan, and Alex Turner, but it doesn’t end there. New drummer Jon Theodore tears it up in much the same way he did with the Mars Volta, but we also get the epically awesome Elton John, who chimes in on piano and vocals on the record's best track “Fairweather Friends,” which is insane. The track also features the full band and Grohl and Reznor. It’s an epic song that everyone should already know, if you’re indeed a fan of the band.
“...Like Clockwork,” which also was my album of year in 2013, is a strong reminder that not everything that goes away does so and then loses strength, but rather that a true return to form is possible, especially when you have a great group of people who are all focused on the same goal. I look forward to the day where the world is graced with another album by the best living rock band in the world, Queens of the Stone Age, or at least a new Them Crooked Vultures record. Any of those will do! Thanks for reading, sorry this took so damn long!
So last week I went to see the Deftones. Having long been one of my all time favorite bands, as well as having seen them many times before, you tend to go in mostly prepared for what to expect. The energy they bring with them every time stacks up formidably against nearly anyone, from any genre. The show opened with hardcore band Code Orange. While they weren’t terrible, the thirty minute set was a definite reminder of how promising the hardcore once was, say like 13 years ago. They were a remnant of a past that most people don’t miss. They also suffered from same song-itis, a condition where because of the style of music and sound mixing, nearly every song sounds identical.
Next though, thankfully, was the kings from Sacramento(I’m talking about the Deftones if you aren’t aware). For nearly two hours they pummeled the crowd with songs from every album, many big moments(Although “7 Words,” “Passenger” and “Tempest” all got left out). What was amazing though was the light show. The energy they seemed to rev up in the crowd went great with the thumping music and energetic crowd, but seriously, these guys have known what they’re doing live for a long time, so no surprise there.
Time and time again the band mellowed the crowd out, only to ramp it up again. The biggest example of this was towards the end of the set. “What Happened to You” was gorgeous and well placed, only to have the mood turn intense again with Around the Fur stampedes “Around the Fur,” and a song I finally got to experience live,”Rickets.” It was thoroughly entertaining to say the least.
The last thing I’ll say is I’ve never seen a band so good at mixing multiple songs at once. Yes, the closer of the night was the “Adrenaline” track “Engine no.9,” but intermingled with that track was “Wicked,” and Cypress Hill’s “How I Could just Kill a Man.” Not easy to do, but if you were a casual listener, it doesn’t seem difficult to imagine you not thinking it wasn't originally the same song. To put it simply, another amazing show.
Full disclosure: This Act, and it’s mastermind, Dax Riggs, has been a pretty consistent figure in local Louisiana music for as long as I can remember. Also, I’ve had the honor of spending minimal time with him, and once even visited his home in Houma, where my friends and I were given a sneak peek at upcoming music. As I digress though, today we’ll be talking about this vastly overlooked album in our next installment of the “Albums of My Life” series, with the Deadboy and the Elephantmen album “We are Night Sky.”
I’ve always thought Deadboy’s sound could be readily described as swamp music, with murky undertones that fit quite well in the dreaded waters of our many swamps in Louisiana. From the simmering opening of “Stop I’m Already Dead,” to the slow wind of the melancholic “No Rainbow,” the record is more varied than you might think. Riggs’ unique, otherworldly, alien voice brims with attitude and raw intensity while drummer and fellow local musician Tess Brunet pummels away one second and adds a low key jingle on background vocals the next. She went on to join another great local band, “The Generationals,” but that's neither here nor there. You might think simply this is another White Stripes ripoff, but it’s very far from the type of art the Detroit group cultivated.
Even more upbeat songs don’t necessarily start that way. Track three, “How long the night Was,” starts with a lovely acoustic guitar, but within a very smart amount of time the twosome throws down classic garage rock state of minds and sends the song into a different territory completely. This happens multiple times on the record, but it never feels dated or rushed. Songs begin at a lower level of energy, but by the time the track is completed, you’ve been thoroughly rocked.
The drumming on the record, especially on the tracks that are more immediate, are a revelation. Brunet manages to rock out with both ease and precision, and the accompanying beats only help to provide the overall themes of the music with more power and urgency. “Blood Music” is a great example of this. The song is quintessential garage rock, but with Riggs varied voice it becomes much more than a simple track you can ignore. As the album progress and makes its way to the conclusion though, the quality of the tracks get better, as does the urgency. “Kissed by Lightning” has this great reverb happening, and the vocals, which are muddled and murmured, create a dizzying effect on the listener. Dax’s guitar on the track is also magnetic and forceful, and it’s in these moments where the band and album soar.
The record, and the band, which are still both great, managed to make plenty of best albums lists the year it was released, but sadly has largely been forgotten by important music types, but that in itself is a tragic statement. Sometimes you see a band that so clearly has it, but many other people don’t get a chance to see it. Sadly this is one of those situations. I still love the album, and it will remain a critical part of my music loving brain, but they never reached anywhere near the heights I thought they deserved.
And if I can speak frankly, that's the fucked up part. The last three songs are all amazing, and to me solidify how great the group was. “Break It Off,” perfectly fits the mold of the record, with it's low key drumming and minimal guitar playing, while “Evil Friend” is the perfect calling card for this band. It’s slow, tightly wound and gloriously dark. My former partner and I always thought this should of been the opening song for the credits of “True Blood,”but obviously that never happened. Listen to the lyrics though, it’s simply perfect. As Riggs bellows “On a shore of tears yet to be cried,” and with Tess behind him, you feel the band and want in their voices, and it’s a wonderful send off for the second to last song.
A few nights ago I was on hand to check out the second show of the Cures North America tour. Now I've been struggling with a little bit of writer's block and being generally overwhelmed, so if this is lame and be as insightful as normal I apologize.
The venue here in New Orleans, known as the U.N.O. Lakefront Arena used to host many shows I've been to, but I haven’t been in nearly 6 years ago for a band. Anyway the opening act was Twilight Sad. The sound of the Cure and their influence in all things gloom and is very prevalent in the overall style of the band, but it doesn't scream of mediocrity. They were actually quite good, managing to mesh their own style and with a mixture of Joy Division and the Cure. They also started early which is going that rarely happens. Over a minimal thirty minute set the band swayed and rocked in their melancholic glory to deliver not only a solid set overall, but also one that makes me want to seek them out on my way. That simply doesn’t happen all the time, so it’s nice when it does.
Shortly after that though, the lights dimmed and the gradual entrance.of the Cure began. Smoke filled the stage, and the familiar soundings of “Plainsong” gradually enclosed the arena in lush atmospheres and sounds. Honestly it was one of the best openings imaginable for the well over two and a half hour show. This band, quite simply likes to play, and boy did they. The first three songs were also the opening trio of tracks from the landmark “Disintegration,” which obviously made the crowd think the album was being played completely. But even though it wasnt, nearly all of the album's tracks did make appearances through the long set. Also a welcome change was the overall stage show from the previous time I saw them. Quite simply the projections from a few years ago were some of the worst I’ve ever seen for a big level band, but on this night their was none of that. The mood and visuals perfectly fit with the darkness that shrouds the band, and it really elevated the night to the next level.
Overall though the show was amazing, and for a band nearing their fourth decade they sound just as good as they did in records from decades ago. Go see them if you get the chance. You certainly get your money's worth!
What makes an album stand out? Mostly it’s plain old talent and the knowledge to expel that talent. I mention this because of all the bands I’ll be covering today, they all have two things in common. One: They make damn fine music very consistently, but two, they also have great records that don’t get nearly as much attention as their best known works. Today we are discussing not only a band’s best known work, but also the albums that are arguably better than their biggest albums. Now, some of these are tough to call, and arguments could certainly be made, but among this list are ten all around great albums, and some are better than others, in my opinion. I hope you enjoy!
BEST KNOWN ALBUM: The Love Below/ Speakerboxxx
BEST ALBUM: Stankonia
While “The Love Below” and “Stankonia” are both very well known records, the big difference is transcendence. What I mean, is that while “Stank” was a huge success for the band, once the hooks of “Hey Ya” invaded our nation, the OutKast fever had surely taken off. Both are great, and while Stankonia has huge influences in hip hop, the best part of the record is the tendency to go above and beyond what normal rap music is. It’s varied, uplifting and fun to jam out to. The Love Below may have a few huge hits and high points, but it doesn’t have anything on “B.O.B.” and “Ms. Jackson.”
BEST KNOWN ALBUM: the Blue Album
BEST ALBUM: Pinkerton
Let me first just state that these two albums are pillars of my music loving mind. Both are excellent, albeit in different ways. The self titled record has all the hooks, random nerd mentions and full out surf rock you want from the band, but it’s there that the two records shift in sound. “Pinkerton” is far more dark and introspective than it’s predecessor, but for me at least it just has more feeling and emotion. It’s a record that tells the story of a real difficult time for someone, and when I get into albums, it’s those types of records that have a longer lasting impact. My advice would be to go for the Blue Album and all it’s joy and fun sprinkled with sadness, but stay for the autobiographical experience you get when you dive into “Pinkerton.”
BEST KNOWN ALBUM: Turn on the Bright Lights
BEST ALBUM: Antics
“Bright Lights” is such a good album that shocked everyone that the band could’ve went on making not so great albums after that and they would’ve been able to still live off their success. In some ways that’s exactly what Interpol has done, except of course for their amazingly solid second record “Antics.” That record is more focused and more rocking, but what gets me is the fact that everyone essentially discounted them after one truly great album, when in fact, it’s the first two records that deserve to be placed at the top of the band's best.
Nine Inch Nails
BEST KNOWN ALBUM:the Downward Spiral
BEST ALBUM: the Fragile
To put it bluntly, the success of “TDS” is the reason Reznor was able to take his time and create an immersive, nearly perfect listening experience. “Spiral” is chaotic, masochistic and violent in all the ways we’ve come to love the band, but “The Fragile” is something different entirely. Not only is it Reznor showcasing the world of nin in all its varied beauty and complexity, but at nearly two hours we are able to see nin really stretch their muscles and give us not only nin’s best all around work, but one of the more passed over and overlooked records of the late 90’s.
BEST KNOWN ALBUM:Nevermind
BEST ALBUM: In Utero
There’s a long shot that any band will catapult to the top of the heap with a single record again like Nirvana did with the insanely popular “Nevermind,” but by and large the subsequent, proper follow up actually does more for the overall essence of the band. Over the course of twelve richly crafted songs featuring themes of abandonment, settling for the wrong things, and corruption, Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic are able to take everything they learned from the previous record and make use it to make a record that’s angry, honest,and ultimately the last incredible record from a dying star.
Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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