Noise 101: CD Reviews for Nov 19 Reflector
Them Crooked Vultures
by Sean-Paul Boynton
The past few years has seen the gap shrink to the point that it’s practically non-existent. Besides younger audiophiles thumbing through their parents’ record collections and spearheading the emergence of vinyl as a new market force, older artists have given up their superiority to play with their musical offspring, creating a silent commentary on the nature of influence.
This trend has produced some pretty awesome results — most famously with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr joining Modest Mouse, and Devo hiring A Perfect Circle drummer Josh Freese. In both of these cases and more, the artistic links can clearly be seen: Modest Mouse have successfully mined the melodic melodrama of the Smiths, and Freese’s technically precise and deceptively simple drumming is the perfect foil for Devo’s awkwardly danceable new wave. Plus, it’s obvious that there’s a little bit of fanboy admiration involved; why else would these disciples agree to play with their forebears?
That wide-eyed enthusiasm must have played at least a small part in the formation of Them Crooked Vultures. Consisting of lead Queen of the Stone Age Josh Homme, former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, and — in the surprise twist of the decade — Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, the artistic father-son links within the trio are hard to ignore. Homme has based his entire stoner-rock career on the dirty riffage of “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Immigrant Song.” Meanwhile, Grohl had lobbied hard to fill the late John Bonham’s drum stool for Zep’s reunion shows last year. No wonder he’s back behind the drums here; with Jones on bass, Grohl gets to live out his fantasy rock and roll camp dreams at long last.
But don’t write off Them Crooked Vultures, and their self-titled debut album, as a vanity project for two rock geeks. From the bluesy stomp of “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I” these three powerhouses sound like a full-fledged band whose members seem instinctively compatible with each other.
The interplay within the longer jam tracks actually sounds off the cuff, any pretensions, while the shorter pop-structured songs are tightly wound and blast with determined force.
Jones’ involvement is still surprising, though, and has been the jaw-dropping factor in this whole enterprise. Since Zeppelin’s end in 1980 after Bonham’s death, Jones has been relatively quiet, preferring to stay out of the spotlight and contribute production and orchestral to a wide variety of albums (R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People being the best and most famous example). But something must have happened during his brief return to the stage with Page and Plant, because he sounds completely in the pocket here, especially with Grohl. Their playing is simply mean, with Jones’ bass turned up to a meaty growl and Grohl packing a mighty wallop like only he can.
With such a rock-solid rhythm guitarist and lead singer Homme is able to simply float overhead on a wave of mutilation, laying into the riff-heavy nature of the songs but also unleashing some cactus-shredding solos that smell of rats and whiskey-soaked moustaches. His vocals and reliance on the riff rather than the lead lines will draw inevitable comparisons to his Queens, output, but the obvious difference is that Them Crooked Vultures, despite rocking mega-hard, swing like a wrecking ball rather than bludgeon like a sledgehammer. This is rock and roll that gives Stella her groove back, and with a vengeance.
Not all of Them Crooked Vultures is about destruction, however. “Interlude With Ludes” is all space-pop mysticism, reminiscent of Jones’ atmospheric organ work in Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Just like how the bassist/organist gave Zeppelin its initial mystique, so too does his (albeit brief) keyboard playing add an air of intrigue, like on the startlingly Doors’ homage “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up.”
But at the end of the day, Them Crooked Vultures is simply about having a good time playing rock and roll with your friends. Almost every press photo taken of this unruly trio finds them laughing their asses off, and we even catch them doing so on record. So damn the lineage, the influence, the passing of the rock torch from one generation to the next.
Rock and roll is about not giving a fuck and turning the volume up to 11 in order to drown out the naysayers. No matter what generation you come from, there’s always comfort in that.
More tracks on the racksAfter his last album release, Continuum, John Mayer has some particularly high standards to meet for mellow music lovers everywhere. While the velvety vocals are still present, Mayer has changed his tune slightly on Battle Studies. Although subtle, songs like “War of My Life,” “Half of My Heart” and the current radio single “Who Says” have an almost country twang. Even though it’s not dreadful, Battle Studies definitely doesn’t live up to his previous album’s standards. All in all, Mayer’s newest album doesn’t really provide anything overly stimulating. Perhaps that’s because he’s been too busy stimulating every Hollywood starlet that walks to bother doing the same for his listeners.
The genre-busting TV show has just released the first volume of their amazing renditions of some of this
generation’s greatest hits. Glee: The Music, Vol. 1 gives you just a taste of the amazingness that is Glee. Songs such as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and “Defying Gravity” (from the Broadway musical Wicked) are thrown at you with high intensity and perfect harmonies. The 18 songs chosen for Vol. 1 are some of the best that have been featured this season, but still don’t do the show enough justice. If you haven’t jumped on the Glee train, this album should convince you to do so.
Blakroc ft. Mos Def
“On The Vista”
Blakroc, a collaboration with psychedelic garage-rockers the Black Keys and various rappers, have been raising expectations for their Nov. 27 album with each leaked track. The latest to hit the web features Mos Def contributing admittedly less-than-stellar rhymes, but the song is all about atmosphere. It’s all darkly foreboding, with Def’s mumbled delivery and screaming, high-pitched guitars, but still warm enough to nod your head to while puffing on…well, whatever you like.
Les Savy Fav
The Nickelodeon Jr. show Yo Gabba Gabba has become the new Sesame Street when it comes to cool musical contributors, bringing on the Shins, Of Montreal, MGMT and more to provide soundtracks for this pretty bizarre show. This is a keeper though, just because of the novelty factor: art-punks Les Savy Fav offering up an excited and adorable tribute to footwear. The song is only 1:14 long, so ignore the five minutes of blackness that follows in this video.
“Must Be Santa” video
Bob Dylan, wearing blonde wig and Santa hat, presides over a wild Christmas party in a large mansion that turns slightly violent near end. The soundtrack? The Bard’s accordion-led polka cover of the classic call-and-response holiday tune. That’s simplest summing up one of the most bizarre feasts for the eyes in recent memory, as Dylan dances with 25-year-girls and chills out with St. Nick himself. This the best early Christmas gift ever.