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Album reviews: Queens of the Stone Age, Wild Nothing, and a throwback to Talking Heads

By Max Hill

like-clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age — …Like Clockwork

The easiest reviews to write are always the ones fueled by intensity, by passion, by that indescribable feeling of having something worth writing about. However, with …Like Clockwork, the new album from Josh Homme’s alternative rock collective, Queens of the Stone Age, inspires no such feeling. It’s not bad, maybe that’s the problem. It’s not great, either, and it certainly doesn’t reach the lustful, grungy highs of the Songs for the Deaf or Lullabies to Paralyze.

Adopting an overarching theme of desperation and misguided lust, the 10 songs on …Like Clockwork see Homme imagining himself as several different animals, rueing the ephemeral nature of love, and balancing the theatrical (Elton John-featuring “Fairweather Friends”) with the bleak (album opener “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”).

As per usual, Dave Grohl’s drumming is incredibly tight — it’s easy to forget that his real talent is behind the kit, not the mic — and usual suspects Troy Van Leeuwen and Michael Schuman are in fine form here.

There’s a positive correlation between the volume of Homme’s voice and its quality, slower, sparser tracks like “Kalopsia” and album closer “…Like Clockwork” fall flat. On the other hand, early single “My God is the Sun” and “I Appear Missing” are album highlights, recalling the seductive, murky stoner rock of the group’s earlier albums.

The lyrics are unremarkable, but rarely distract. Homme’s refrain of “Does anyone ever get this right?” at the album’s beginning seems to refer to his lack of conviction, which colours the album even during its strongest moments.

Homme, who is spread thin as a part-time member of Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles of Death Metal, just doesn’t seem to have his heart in it; …Like Clockwork sounds more like an obligation than a labour of love. “Most of what you see, my dear / Is purely for show”, he sings on “…Like Clockwork,” and although many moments on the album don’t ring true, this one certainly does.

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Wild Nothing — Empty Estate EP

Jack Tatum’s work under his Wild Nothing moniker has never inspired descriptions of experimental or game-changing. Despite his idolization of Berlin-era Bowie, The Cure and Brian Eno, all of whom had a hand in building the foundations of their own genres, Tatum’s summery dream pop has never aspired to upset the status quo: his strength lies in economic, accessible pop, and both of his full-lengths — 2010’s Gemini and 2012’s Nocturne — have found the perfect balance between catchy hooks and nostalgia-laden instrumentation.

With Empty Estate EP, Tatum has adopted a more electronic-oriented sound: Where his synths once filled the empty space between jangling guitars and his thin, Jim Reid-voice, Tatum’s newest EP is built around a core of sweet, synthesized melodies.

“On Guyot” and “Hachiko” mark Tatum’s first attempt at instrumental pieces, and although neither comes off as a strong point in the EP, both speak to Tatum’s growing talent for sonic landscapes — we’re sure to see him try his hand at more ambient music-inspired tracks in the future.

Disco-inspired single “A Dancing Shell” and groovy opener “The Body in Rainfall” are Tatum at his exuberant best, incorporating his new fascination with electronica into typically Wild Nothing-style pop songs. Empty Estate EP also comes off as Tatum’s most cohesive work to date; Tracks bleed into one another and seem to take cues from each other, making the EP an engrossing, singular listening experience.

As a format, the Extended Play is underrated. As often as it’s used as an excuse to release B-sides or tracks left on the cutting room floor, artists use the format to push the boundaries, to test out new styles of musicality to a less expectant audience. Although Empty Estate EP’s high-water mark is below that of either of his previous full-lengths, Tatum’s bold stylistic shifts and experimental bent speak to his growth as a songwriter, and certainly raise the bar for his eventual third LP.

Remain In Light_Talking Heads

Throwback: Talking Heads — Remain in Light

Talking Heads are easy to mistake as being grounded by a frontman / backing band dynamic. Lead singer and guitarist David Byrne earns more than his fair share of the spotlight in retrospectives of the band’s decade-long career: his erratic vocals, abstract lyrics and frenzied dance moves have immortalized him as one of the most remarkable leading men in rock music history.

Released in 1980, Remain in Light was born out of the band’s desire to emancipate themselves from this short-sighted classification. Percussive, polyrhythmic and playfully experimental, the songs on the LP each began as heavily improvised jam sessions. Whereas on earlier albums, Byrne had retained creative control, here he shelved his ego in favour of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz’s burgeoning fascination with native Haitian percussion styles

The two  —  who had been married since the band’s inception — had vacationed in the Caribbean following the release of 1979‘s Fear of Music, vexed by Byrne’s creative dominance. Their leave of absence inspired them to purchase an apartment in the Bahamas, where Byrne and guitarist Jerry Harrison soon rejoined them. Under the guidance of producer Brian Eno, the band combined their new, collaborative songwriting style with instrumental loops and samples which, at the time of the album’s release, seemed positively futuristic.

Byrne’s vocals were never stronger during the Heads’ tenure: his typically distinctive lyrics are shouted, chanted, and even rapped throughout the album’s eight tracks. Weymouth and Frantz are perfectly in sync; The bass and drums are mixed into the foreground of songs like “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” and single “Once In a Lifetime,” giving the album a swaggering, danceable quality that never undermin    es its brilliance.

Though Remain in Light catches the band between its punk rock roots and its adoption of the New Wave aesthetic, the Heads never sounded more assured or innovative. In a decade that would come to be defined by superficiality and inanity, Remain in Light is a shining beacon, the best album by a band that was never more exceptional than when they worked together.

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