MUSIC

REVIEW | Do Queens of the Stone Age just want to dance?

Josh Homme returns with an album-length collaboration with pep impresario Mark Ronson

Matador Records

Josh Homme creates a polished sound somewhere between Glam-Rock Marilyn Manson and whatever the Foo Fighters sound like these days. It's not great.

It is fashionable to not only decry that rock and roll is not dead but to insult the questioner. Its current hero-savant is an Australian fellow in his early thirties by the name of Kevin Parker, who recently headlined a music festival with his two year old major label debut, a record of bass, syths and steel that still resoundingly fucks. Earlier this year Parker, defying the ironclad rule about signing your soul to only one of the two live music conglomerates, played a lower billing at another music festival, LiveNation's Gov Ball, spinning records alongside Mark Ronson, a walking suede jacket, DJ and producer with an eye for making pop singers sound authentic and in-your-face (Amy Winehouse's Back to Black in 2006 and Lady Gaga's Joanne in 2016; in between, he convincingly made Bruno Mars sound like Michael Jackson). Ronson and Pakrer's extended pairing—they've made a number of songs together under Ronson's name and cowrote "Perfect Illusion" for Gaga—makes sense: Parker got bored of being hyped as the next coming of David Gilmour two cycles ago and Ronson could never really make hits the way the Swedes do; "Uptown Funk" was a viral anomaly, even his work with Gaga failed to crack the top ten.

Over a decade older than Parker, Josh Homme is the latest ax-welding titan to partner with Ronson and Villains, the latest record from Homme's flagship operation, Queens of the Stone Age, is forty minutes and change inside Ronson's Hollywood confines. No "radio formulas" are imposed on the QOTSA crew, claims Jon Pareles in the Times, which is true enough: the songs are universally north of the four minute mark, three of them are over six; classic territory from the man sold as the godfather of slow-burning stoner rock. But the result is also noting like anything Homme has ever been involved in before; a curveball pitch for Homme as the lone, dancing, biker of the apocalypse, notice the cartoonish reappearance of the Dark Prince on the cover art, the appearance of words like "evil," "haunted" and "reborn" in the song titles. Gloom and doom, thy name is Homme.

In order to do this, Homme and Ronson turns to another one-hit wonder of sorts: the stylings of one Marylyn Manson. Manson, who absconded the equipment, baggage and sound he borrowed from Trent Reznor the same year Homme first launched his prehistoric crew into being; that would be '98 and a bargain bin classic called Mechanical Animals. On the cover Manson wore lithe, prosthetic breasts, a nod to the glam era of Bowie, returning to vogue at the time (Placebo, Velvet Goldmine). Backed by a flurry of Mick Ronson riffs, Manson rejected his position as spokesman or hero for a generation of similarly disaffected or pale people, people he now considered very boring (i.e. the mechanical animals): "I am never gonna be the one for you/ I am never gonna save the world from you," which ends up being, in that post-Columbine/pre- Bowling for Columbine moment, elegic, pompous and boring. Twenty years later, Homme, not really a spokesman or hero, more a perpetually crabby outsider, turns less withholding: "You've got heart, I'll have it for lunch," he belts, after comparing street protesters to swing dancers. He calls them "Domesticated Animals."

QOTSA's latest is a partnership with the jacket-wearing British producer Mark Ronson. "I like to dance," claims frontman Josh Homme.(Kevin Mazur/Getty)

Homme has done this kind of generation commentary before, from both the hedonistically callous center ("Feel Good Hit of the Summer") and the Dylan-esque outside ("Mr. Designer") but he has never sounded so bored, so out of touch with what the kids whose parents are buying the hundred dollar tickets to see him at MSG really are feeling, protesting in those streets. Which is to say that it's coming out this week and none of it has aged very well already; a good phrase to sum up the seven (!!!) albums Manson has made since Animals; the only remarkable thing is that Homme had lasted so long with making one of his own. The doomed-to-be-underrated Era Vulgaris was their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot without the ten-point score and even the hideously titled ...Like Clockwork was kept together by moments of indie rock Wagernian beauty, like that rising swarm of locusts in Days of Heaven.

But on the far more functionally titled Villians, Homme just struts and you can smell the bad motorcycle leather. His era of Bowie is more fashionable than Manson was going for (Berlin, with an ear to the particularly hidden guitar hero work of Robert Fripp) but none of it is very listenable. Songs begin or end with pretty, overwhelming skill but go on, with unbearable choruses and codas that sound like well-oiled machines churning, churning along. Midway between the poppy sludge anthems that Homme perfected around the turn of the millennium and bag wig music, think bands like Sweet or T. Rex when Marc Bolan couldn't bring himself to care anymore about his own half-ass epics. A song like "Evil Has Landed," which feels like it should be some pertinent how-about-that-Trump music, only becomes salvageable when Homme stops singing and a rush of Kinks power chords ooze gorgeously next to a line a synths, a rare moment where whatever kind of "dance music" Homme is trying to accomplish is perfect articulated.

A while ago, I caught another of Homme's bands, Eagles of Death Metal, opening for Mastodon. The band is a collaboration with an absurd mustache named Jesse Hughes and Homme never actually can bring himself to tours with him and for good reason; they are most well-known for playing the Le Bataclan in Paris while it was being attached by masked gunmen and later being all racist about it. But the sound is not all that different from Homme's main operation, circa '17, a pompous display of bad boys, shooting surgery power chords, lifted from Nuggets compilations instead of the Bowie line that Homme likes to ride. It was like those gay bars in midtown where strapping half-naked men wear cowboy hats and play bad country music: it's neither really a gay bar nor are the men really cowboys. It's an articulation of something else, something which is only not terrible when you don't look at it, when you sway in the crowd, when you respond to the fake catcalls with fake enthusiasm.

Another photo of Josh Homme. Why not?(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

It's a kind of nowhere rock, wanting to whip up that evil devil stuff but is wearing a halloween costume from the corner convenience store. Which is to say that Villians wants, very desperately, to be that kind of holistic sonic transformation that younger metalheads go for all the time: New Bermuda, The Ark Work. The effect, instead, is like that one Foo Fighters record where David Grohl pretended to ride the highway like a wandering bluesman for HBO money. It won't save your soul, baby.

Villains is out 8/25 via Matador. Listen to "The Evil Has Landed" here

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MUSIC

Popdust Presents | LAWRENCE take on Sean Paul

A sibling-led ensemble called Lawrence come to our offices and "Get Busy"

A slice of the early naughts, fresh from Brooklyn

When I saw the band approach, I immediately took another elevator. Even as a diminished four-piece, the Brooklyn hipster ensemble looked like they could crush you given the convenient constraint of an elevator. In another live session, with the full band in swing, they barely fit in a room, a mad orchestra barely contained by a single shot. Could their sound even fit in a single room?

Fronted by Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, siblings who claim to have been raised on "Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, and Eggo waffles," Lawrence is strange sort of folk act. They have the collegiate pull, sure (Cylde claims to have put begun putting the band together while at Brown) but they carefully eschew the genre's twin currents: they are neither small n' Bon Iver intimate nor rankled with the pomposity of stage-filling bands like Arcade Fire or the Polyphonic Spree. Their music, similarly, lacks the obtuse abstraction of genre (the producer Mike Dean said it best when he remarked that Justin Vernon sings "like he's got marbles in his mouth."), Clyde sings plainly: he'll "put on my finest sweatpants and I'll order you pad thai" and it will be a "an intimate occasion, you and me and HBO." This is a man who takes the semantics of "Netflix and chill" seriously. Discovered by Warner last year, who rereleased their debut, Breakfast, they are both coy and charming, nerds who dress like cheerleaders.

The band in action or at least in sound check. (news.bandsintown.com)

Their live show is somewhere in between Miles Davis and a children's choir you might catch at the Port Authority while waiting for the bus to Jersey. Drummer Sam Askin kept time on a nearby box like a Long Island Jaki Liebezeit, I can still hear the beat in my mind, months later, a soft drilling into skull tissue. And for ten minutes, Jonny Koh, their guitarist and militant perfectionist, was our Jimmy Hendrix, holding together what felt like our souls. Riffing on their love for late '90s/early '00s pop music, afterward Clyde gave me an exuberant performance of this monologue about the cathartic power of Brittney Spears at her prime, they delivered their take on Sean Paul's "Get Busy," a 2003 hit that was notably featured as an option on Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2, considered the more spirited of the Dance Dance Revolution editions that flooded our homes during the late Bush years. You can watch that above.

They also played for us a new song of theirs; you won't be able to find it on Breakfast. Called "Friend or Enemy," it's a slow-jam that's not afraid to let the feelings flow, a warm cracker that you'll want to hold close like butter playing toast.

Watch "Friend or Enemy" below:

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MUSIC

INTERVIEW | Gabrielle Aplin tells us her morning routine

Her new single "Waking Up Slow" is out now

What's on your bedside? "I have a salt lamp, some crystals--Fluorite, Chrysocolla, Danburite and Rose Quartz--and my phone charger!"

Sometime, in the turn of the last decade, we were all on YouTube, asking questions of our presidential candidates and discovering Justin Bieber. Before media corporations were pivoting to video, people were making their own and among those people was a teenage Gabrielle Aplin, who was recording low-fi covers of MGMT, Ellie Goulding, and Ed Sheeran since she was fourteen. Her covers were beautiful, strange things: the belting, beating countryside heart of PJ Harvey inside the power chords of modern pop. Her underground success had the labels running as fast as they could: Parlophone, home to the Beatles, Radiohead and Coldplay, quickly signed her and John Lewis, a line of high-end department stores, wanted her for their annual Christmas jingle. Barely twenty years old, she took on an '80s oldie: Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "The Power of Love," a wry saccharine slice of Trevor Horn irony, with a worn out joke about vampires somewhere in between. But behind her piano, Aplin turned it into a quiet storm of romantic agony, making every word feel like a bone-chill dive into a lake. It was a Christmas number one.

Five year and two albums later, the singer described by The Independent as "the English Taylor Swift," is back with the first single from Avalon, a 4-track EP that is coming out next month. The song is called "Waking Up Slow" and you can listen to it below:

With a peppy backbeat, abundant with handclaps and powered by a sunny production, "Waking Up Slow" feels written in the key of new love. The beat is jubilant, like those old Grouplove songs you could listen to over and over again a whole summer long. The fun is infectious, even a morning routine like waking up becomes something to savor. Yet, I don't think any other singer could smartly observe, in the chorus no less, that "I've never been so lonely on my own," a suggestion ion conversation with the thrilling rush of codependency. What happens after? When the song ends, in what feels like the middle of a verse, we don't know if the relationship has ended or has faded into the forever.

Aplin will be promoting Avalon with a US tour, check out the dates below. Meanwhile, she filled us in on how she, personally, likes to wake up slow, among other things.

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