Saturday, April 20, 2013

Record store day

Making my way through the hordes of people at Hum records... not so much.

Sydney suffered a mini rain apocalypse this morning but that didn't stop the annual international vinyl nerd day. My nerd foil and I drove to Newtown and I camped outside of Hum Records (a queue of 10) while my buddy lined up outside Repressed Records (a queue of 7 - word is everyone went to Redeye in the city). The whole challenge with Record Store Day is that there is no guarantee of what exclusives the stores get so the things I was particularly after (Built to Spill Live vinyl, No Alternative lp or the Elliott Smith outtakes) were nowhere to be found (nor the disturbingly and shamefully sexy Neko Case poster they were giving away free in the US). I know that's part of the joy of it but when you look at the list of things which were available in the states (hello Hüsker Dü re-issue - I'd been tipped off there were none in Australia), it can be frustrating. I consoled with the re-issue of the first Nick Drake record, a couple of seven inches and the At the Drive-In album that sounds like Fugazi. Ryzard did slightly better than me but there was a slight deflation as we headed to the Glebe Record Fair.

 The Sydney rain apocalypse.

Ahh, record fairs: the sights, the weirdness and the smells (mainly of the record nerds). I'd already lucked out as a friend of mine had a stall and let me peruse his stock before the fair. A friend had just dug up two crates of prime 90's indie vinyl (most still sealed) so I got in early with a lot of Superchunk, Helmet and Guided By Voices. I was particularly happy with a copy of Girls Against Boys House of GVSB which sounds fucking great - I'd forgotten how dark and sexy that record is. I got a couple of cheap deals (Gram Parsons, Hound Dog Taylor) but with a hall full of records (mostly badly ordered) and a rabid nerd swarm, I beat a hasty retreat. However, a shitty day is the perfect excuse to curl up with a cup of tea and new tunes.

Score! Record store day - viva la nerds.


Friday, April 19, 2013


Daft Punk - Get Lucky: I hate it when people say "this is my jam" or "this is my summer jam." You sound stupid, ridiculous and out of touch. That being said, this is my summer jam (even though it's autumn and today feels like winter). Sure, it's an innocuous disco song but goddamn it gets stuck in my head, gives me a big goofy smile and makes me want to dance badly (it has happened). Lat's face it, the pre-chorus is pure Off the Wall era Michael Jackson which is no bad thing. I know a lot of Daft Punk fans were expecting something much more complex and challenging but whatever, I'll settle for something that makes me feel good.

Queens of the Stone Age - My God is the Sun: I figure if I was in a room full of people and Josh Homme was there, he'd probably be the smartest guy in the room (after myself, of course). On first listen, this doesn't seem like the most remarkable of songs but that's the deceptive thing, My God is the Sun killer. It just confidently exists outside your six years worth of built up expectations for a new Queen's album and waits for you to catch up. These guy's no what they're doing and don;t care about you want. Listless reverb riffs, slight digressions and a chorus that gnaws into your subconscious after two or three listens, it is actually remarkable (check out it's structure). It is so catchy I woke in the middle of the night literally singing it at the top of my voice - yeah, I am weird and should get out more. The scuttlebutt doing the rounds is that the new album is really low-key with lot's of ballads but I have faith in Homme to deliver the goods.

The National - Demons and Don't Swallow the Cap: I'm pretty sure the National are at a point where they can do no wrong. From these two songs, it is apparent that their new record is going to be nothing less than phenomenal. Of the two tracks here, I prefer Don't Swallow the Cap which is a natural extension of the High Violet sound - it gets to about 45 seconds and I just throw my head back in ecstasy. It's just the perfect encapsulation of their sound and rolls with confidence and spirit. Demons is a harder pill to swallow and strangely, reminds of a late era Nick Cave slow burner especially the half sung/half spoken verses. It doesn't have the punch of Don't Swallow but multiple listens slowly reveal it's shimmering beauty. Both great tracks and the album's not far away. This is going to be a great year for music.


Chi Cheng

I remember the exact time I first heard the Deftones. As usual, hung over after a Friday night out, I would watch the TV show Recovery on Saturday mornings. Recovery was one of the few shows that had live bands playing and then the Deftones strolled on and blew my mind (the two songs above). Big hooks, big riffs and a driving intensity. I remember that day because I went and bought Around the Fur as soon as the show had finished and basically became a fan forever. Little did I know that they would morph from a very good band into a fucking excellent one. Their next record White Pony is a classic and while they've never really soared that high again, every album features a high number of outstanding songs.
So it was a saddening to hear that Deftones bass player Chi Cheng passed away this week. Cheng was in a car accident some years ago that left him paralysed and largely comatose. The Deftones community rallied around his family, providing support and funds for his rehabilitation but sadly it was not to be. I didn't know the guy but I knew that mighty bass sound that anchored one of my favourite bands and getting to see them live a couple of times, he had that particular energy you see in musicians when they love what they do. Sad stuff.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Queens of the Stone Age are coming...

So I'm getting pretty excited about the arrival of a new Queens of the Stone Age record. The first single, My God is the Sun, is being previewed on Monday night (or 4.40am Tuesday Sydney time) but if you're a weirdo like me you will have heard multiple live versions of from their current South American tour. Sounds a bit like the Sky is Falling from Songs for the Deaf with Crooked Vultures break downs. It sounds ok but I think I'll pass proper judgement when I hear the studio version.

However, all of this anticipation has led Queens back into high rotation so I thought I might do a top ten. Now I want to make a caveat - this list is not definitive because the songs I like change hourly and Queens is one of the few bands I've found where absolutely no one agrees on what is their best song or album. For me, Songs for the Deaf will always be a high water mark but I've met fans equally passionate about every other album. I think it's a reflection on the diversity of their sound and the audience they attract. I think everyone agrees that they fucking rock. Here's my top 10:

10: Infinity: Originally released on the Heavy Metal 2000 soundtrack(?!) and then released with the special editions of Lullabies to Paralyze, this songs was floating around between the first album and Rated R. It shows a sonic leap from the first album in terms of ambition and a refinement of the sound they would eventually perfect. It is all repetition, wirey riffs, hushed backing vocals and a devastating chorus. Homme is still finding his voice but he sounds a million more times confident than he did on the first record.

9: I Never Came: For the Halloween-esque bombast of Lullabies, this is the song I return to. As far as I can guess this is the only song on the record that actually deals with the acrimonious departure of Nick Oliveri. It also shows that there is some light and shade to their sound and the song builds around Homme's falsetto. As much as I miss the Nick era rockers like Tension Head and Millionaire, the subtlety and nuance of I never came is the flip side of the band which reveals how great they can be when they turn it down a notch.

8: The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret: I know it's not a popular thing to put a single on lists but fuck it, this is a great pop song. Deftly constructed, great lyrics and always slower then you remember, it's a slow burn anthem for promiscuity and cheaters. I have no idea how they got those guitar tones or those horns (yes, horns) to sound so sinister but there is a dark well of voodoo being pulled out on the Rated R record.

7: Mexicola: This could have easily been Regular John, How to Handle a Rope or The Bronze but in the end I went with Mexicola because it is just so brutal. That opening bass riff, the shining verses and the drag down of the chorus, it is the perfect encapsulation of Homme's writing style which somehow manages to blend dead end stop/starts, sideways digressions, shimmering pop and thuggish  riffing into seamless perfection. The song itself is about Homme being arrested in Mexico and imagining ending up in jail below the border - the threat is as much sonic as it is in the lyrics.

6: Go with the flow: Another single - whatever. When I listen to My God in the Sun, I get concerned that there's too much focus on tricky dicky time changes and digressions. I appreciate good musicianship as much as the next walrus but sometimes I just want a straight ahead rock song I can lose my shit to without worrying about looking like an idiot when some weird time signature comes in. As such, Go with the flow delivers that in spades - 4 chords, melody to burn and sexy as hell. I tend to think Queens hit their lyric writing peak on Songs for the Deaf and there are some lovely phrases across the entire the album including this song. Also, it pays to have a shit hot video.

5: Auto Pilot: Yeah, tell me I suck because I didn't put In the Fade or a Nick rock song here but if there is any song that shows the key contribution of Oliveri to the band, it's Auto Pilot. Firstly, his bass hangs off the beat and is almost dubby in some ways. Secondly, his more laid back vocals are pushed forward revealing the voice that often shadows some of Homme's best tracks. Thirdly, it allows Josh to focus on one of the best guitar lines he's written (that guitar tone too - shit). Also great to hear Lanegan dirty baritone low in the mix.

4: Better living through chemistry: Building on the slow grind of You Can't Quit Me Baby and the psychedelic freaks outs of Kyuss, Better Living is the centrepiece of the Rated R album and sits like a monolithic rock monster squatting in the middle of R's id disrupting the subconscious mindfuck party jams. At times brutal, at other time soothing as a glass of warm milk, this song showed the radical advancement in Homme's abilities as a songwriter.

3: Misfit Love: While Era Vulgaris was a solid record, its centre is the singular peak that is Misfit Love. The song itself is all tightly coiled riffage, hard nosed noise and cooed come on's. It builds and builds and builds and builds and builds and builds and builds until 4 minutes in it releases into a catharsis wrapped around the lyric "Just a dead man walking through the dead of night." At every turn, the song is perfect from the shrill harmonics over the monster beat to the falsetto. Also, it is very sexy and I no doubt imagine a lot of people have had sex to this song... probably.

2. You can't quit me baby: OK, so stalker songs aren't that beloved but when you have a track built on a behemoth bass riff which leads to about 101 seconds (2:43-4:24) of the most transcendent, lovely choruses you'll ever hear, then this is A song. Particularly when that chorus is "You're solid gold, I'll see you in hell." Flawless even with the goofy ending.

1. A Song for the Deaf: Probably a controversial choice but this song has everything that I love about Queens:
a. Sinister bass riff:
b: Fuck off brilliant drumming by Dave Grohl:
c: Mark Lanegan:
d: Stinging guitar lines:
e: Bombast and grandeur:  
f: Great Josh vocal performance with Nick screaming:
g: Great backing vocals:  
h: Amazing lyrics:
Everything right about Queens is encapsulated in this song, it simultaneously threatening, sexy, weird and assaultive. Built on a propulsive bass/drums combo, it is so good that every time I listen to it I can't believe quite how amazing it is. Somewhat buried at the end of the Songs, it is the perfect product of that era of the band and is untouched to this day. Sure everyone talks about A Song for the Dead (which features Dave Grohl's best drum performance put to tape) but this is the really dark heart of Queens of the Stone Age. Don't believe me? Get some good headphones and listen to it, there's more going on there than you could ever hope to comprehend in a thousand listens.

Roll on the new album.