Monday, November 30, 2009

Thoughts of an Aspiring Music Snob - Week 36: Queens of the Stone Age


Chris is trying to compensate for his lack of musical knowledge by immersing himself in one new artist each week. At the end of the week, he will write up a brief summary of his opinions. You can read about the origin and parameters of this project here.

I went into a music store this week. But not just any music store. I made a trek to a member of that fabled endangered species - the "independent" music store. I was nervous, of course. Most of the music purchases I've made in my lifetime have been classical music CDs gleaned from browsing the "pretentious" section of Barnes and Noble, or ordered over the Internet. For this project, I've been obtaining most of the music from the CDs of friends or the public library, or streamed from websites such as Grooveshark or Lala. But I want to be a music snob, and bitching about the decline of independent music stores seems to be an important part of that.

The store smelled of vinyl and incense, and the walls were decked with posters of bands I had never heard of. As I strolled in, I noticed a cluster of three or four true Music Snobs standing around the cash register, some of them employees, clearly discussing music in hushed tones so as outsiders could not listen in. None of them so much as looked in my direction. I was not made unwelcome, but clearly I was not one of them.

I tried to play it cool. I even made a slow amble through the used vinyl section of the store, pretending to contemplate a purchase (as if I had any way to play those records). But I finally settled on two used CDs - Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. But as I sauntered up to the cash register, my heart was racing. One of the Music Snobs left the posse and came to take care of my purchase, and I convinced he was going to see straight through my facade.

I had a quick waking nightmare in which he laughed mockingly at my musical choices, refused to sell them to me. I imagined him calling over his Music Snob friends to belittle what I had so naively attempted to buy, not understanding the stigma of purchasing Pink Floyd, on a compact disc, of all formats! He would launch into a sneering tirade, ending with the statement that "Your kind is not welcome here", and I would be cast out of the independent music scene to languish in the Kmart electronics section buying teen pop and soft rock for the rest of my aurally miserable life.

Instead, he nodded and said, "That will be twelve bucks." He went back to rejoin the Music Snob conversation almost as soon as I had the bag in my hand.

So I escaped, and while the Music Snob hadn't complimented me on my impeccable taste, neither had he derided my choices. I'll consider this a draw.

Though maybe he would have respected me more if I had purchased those albums in vinyl...

WEEK 36

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Queens of the Stone Age

WHAT I KNEW BEFORE: Not a whole lot, beyond the initial background I gleaned from reading my co-bloggers' work on Them Crooked Vultures. At some point in my life, I've played some of the Queens' songs on either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but my memory of this is hazy enough that I remember neither the specific song nor the actual game.

MY LISTENING: In between the turkey, football, family and holiday travel, my listening was rather light this week. I listened to Songs for the Deaf (2002) every day this week, excepting Thanksgiving day, which I took off. I listened to Rated R (2000) twice and Lullabies to Paralyze (2005) once.

WHAT I LIKED:

The Queens of the Stone Age are epic in the best sense of the word. Practically every note feels like Josh Homme popping out of the speaker and repeatedly punching you in the face. In a musical world that seems to be marked by detached minimalism and subtlety, the Queens of the Stone Age hearken back to the stadium rock era of the 70s and 80s. The tone is never constant, shifting between grimy blues ("God is in the Radio"), to loud, sinister anthems ("Mosquito Song") to a few poppy endeavors ("Another Love Song"), but the result is always a sonic giant of a song. Every time Josh Homme's vocals came in backed up by a chorus of about one thousand multitracked versions of himself, I was ready to stand up and sing along. It's good to know that hard, bombastic rock is still alive and well in the world today.

Most of the songs are primarily driven by a few riffs, which I think works very well for what the band is trying to do. The riffs are simple, but not so simple as to offer no surprises, and Homme manages to draw all the possibilities he can out of them. The result is a sound that is very easy to immerse oneself in. What could have come across as repetitive and tedious instead assumes the perfect amount of small variations to keep the riffs sounding fresh, even across some lengthy six and seven minute songs.

I really liked the rhythm section of the band. Though constantly in flux, there is always a great sense of drive from the drums and bass that allow Homme to do his thing atop a monstrous groove. Songs for the Deaf is the perfect album for pumping up the volume and driving down the interstate with the windows down. You'll find yourself drumming along on the steering wheel. I did.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:

While the vocals work for certain songs, I wasn't as big of a fan of the songs that degenerate into high pitched screaming. "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire" and "Six Shooters" are two of the more egregious transgressors in my mind. In other songs, the vocals simply didn't matter to me a whole lot. It's not like my Smashing Pumpkins week, in which I actively attempted to tune out the lyrics. Rather, they just seem irrelevant and almost petty compared to the gargantuan riffs of the instruments. In fact, if the Queens of the Stone Age were to make an entirely instrumental album, I'd be first in line.

In fact, my biggest problem with the listening this week is that it was just too heavy for this time of year. This week I was busy, sleep-deprived, and rather stressed out overall. These are not the ideal conditions to listen to Queens of the Stone Age. Neither did the band represent the familial bliss that is supposed to accompany Thanksgiving. I think I would like their music more on a lazy summer day, or on a meandering roadtrip. This week, it just felt like a mountain, something too massive for me to even partially climb. I'll have to return to base camp for another attempt at summit later on.

WHAT I LEARNED:

I learned that the band should really just be called "Joshua Homme and His Friends". The lineup for Queens of the Stone Age is notoriously changing and filled with tons of guest appearances. Homme himself is the only constant to play on all the albums. He is also in some other bands that are not named "Queens of the Stone Age", but as far as I can tell they're all really just the same thing. In fact, any time that Homme makes music with at least one other person, I'm pretty sure it could qualify as the Queens of the Stone Age.

I also learned that some holidays are not meant for in-your-face hard rock and Thanksgiving is one of them.

FUN FACT OF THE WEEK:

Homme apparently likes to pick fights with people in public. In 2007, he made some disparaging remarks about Ozzfest. Sharon Osbourne responded with, "I hope he gets syphilis and dies. I hope his dick fuckin' falls off so his mother can eat it."

Stay classy, Sharon.

FURTHER EXPLORATION WOULD ENTAIL:

Well, there's still the band's first album, Queens of the Stone Age (1998), and their latest effort, Era Vulgaris (2007). Aside from that, there's all sorts of other bands that Josh Homme has been in, including ChargeShot!!! favorite Them Crooked Vultures, and something called The Eagles of Death Metal, which is already worth listening to from the name of the band alone. Homme and ex-bassist Olivari were also both formerly members of Kyuss.

Best Song You've Heard: "No One Knows"


Best Song You Haven't Heard: "God is in the Radio"


Next Week's Artist: Willie Nelson