QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
Songs for the Deaf
Jesus Christ. Finally the Queens of the Stone Age are releasing their follow up to 2000's R, and it sounds so goddamn good fans of the band are gonna wet themselves around the world. While R was a decent slab of desert-dusted rock, Songs for the Deaf just kills. The record doesn't rely on gimmicks like the singsong narcotics laundry list that was "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" (a great song, but one that wore its tricks on its sleeve); instead, the band works the tried-and-true angle of making intelligent, heavy rock that packs meaning into melody. The guitar riffs barrel forward like a semi grinding into fifth, and songs move from a low rumble to a full-speed chase ("Six Shooter" is a rabid punk tune foaming at the mouth). Tracks like "Hangin' Tree" show that the band's secret weapon is not guest drummer Dave Grohl but guest singer Mark Lanegan, whose smoky, sultry crooning adds a thick layer of velvet to the Queens' rough edges. Not that founding members Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme lack skills, either--as the Queens' most recent show at Graceland (written up in the new issue of Blender) proved, the quality of the music created by this band was well worth the wait. JENNIFER MAERZ
QOTSA listening party at Chop Suey, Thurs, August 22 7-9 pm.
(Kill Rock Stars)****
Despite its killer tunes and ace musicianship, 2000's All Hands on the Bad One marked the first time Sleater-Kinney seemed content to simply tread water. As a result, One Beat is the first S-K record I've approached with trepidation since picking up Call the Doctor sound unheard in '96--and it's my pleasure to report that One Beat finds the band blazing forward more fiercely than ever.
Those already sick of the hyperventilating praise routinely dumped on Sleater-Kinney should consider going into hibernation, because it's going to get much worse. And deservedly so--in a perfect world, One Beat would outsell Pyromania and Slippery When Wet combined. But Sleater-Kinney isn't interested in a perfect world; they're married to this world, and on One Beat, they chronicle its joys, horrors, and challenges with unprecedented levels of wit, intelligence, and heart. And oh yeah: They fucking ROCK. DAVID SCHMADER
Turn on the Bright Lights
Turn off the bright lights is more like it. Interpol's brooding debut is a collection of 11 wintry songs; the only plausible explanation for the album's release during the dog days of August would be that somebody over at Matador is having a rough summer--a really rough summer. This is a sullen February night of a record, filled with seasonal recriminations and poignant regrets (but happily lacking the self-important, overprivileged whining). While tracks like "Obstacle 1," "PDA," and "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" rock hard, they also rock morosely, which has earned the band comparisons to Joy Division and New Order (vocalist Paul Banks' frighteningly good Ian Curtis impression does nothing to discourage this). But when the quartet slows their rhythm section to a resting pulse--as they do on "Hands Away" and "NYC"--it's clear they're not so much exploring gothic territory as they are investing in a leisurely sort of melodic fury, the kind of high-pitched, highly stylized emoting that makes for great rock 'n' roll. JONATHAN DURBIN
What Would You Do
The down-tempo, minor-chord shades of Mike Johnson's solitary songwriting remain intact on his fourth release, but what's dreary is never dull, thanks to his increasingly masterful sense of arrangement and mature sense of instrumentation. The album opens majestically with the almost-optimistic swell of "Arise," a gorgeously plaintive piano march draped with delicate strands of tenor sax and trumpet. By the album's midpoint, it's clear that much credit for the material's strength and balance is also due to the presence of Jim Roth (pedal steel guitar, slide guitar, and bass) and Jason Albertini (drums and piano), whose subtle-but-solid accompaniments give shape and texture to Johnson's steady, monotone vocal delivery. Jointly produced by Johnson and an uncharacteristically light-handed Phil Ek, WWYD is Johnson's most confident collection of songs to date and so damn lovely in its execution, it will be a shame if its success is confined to indie circles. HANNAH LEVIN
Mike Johnson's CD release party with the Sick Bees is at Chop Suey on Fri Aug 23.