Putting guitarists firmly in control
Computers and keyboards may be running the city’s commercial pop music industry, but you still can’t toss a Telecaster in this town without hitting a guitarist.
Below, a few new sixstring driven songs, one of which stars a cat named Blood, that sound great while rolling down Sunset with the stereo blasting. (Better yet, take Fountain.)
Chelsea Wolfe “16 Psyche” (Sargent House)
Singer, songwriter and magnetic live performer Wolfe runs dark and heavy on the first song from her forthcoming album, “Hiss Spun” (Sept. 22). The artist — who was raised in Sacramento, relocated to Los Angeles in her 20s and now lives in the high desert — draws on Black Sabbath’s downtuned heavy metal chords without sounding the least bit subservient to the overlords.
Wolfe has a fascinating discography. Her minimal recordings from the early ’10s featured crawling, distorted guitars and echoed drama, and over the years she’s explored synthetic textures and orchestral arrangements without ditching any of her menace as a vocalist.
Although it’s about the length and width of your average pop song, “16 Psyche” weighs a ton, thick with loud guitars, drums that echo as if inside a vast cavern and a musical bridge that seems to burrow into the Earth’s core and back.
Queens of the Stone Age “The Way You Used to Do” (Matador)
For their new album, the long-running California band didn’t hire a legendary rock producer like Robert “Mutt” Lange or Tony Visconti to add more hardened grit.
Rather, as is often founder Josh Homme’s wont, they did the opposite, in this instance by hooking up with pop producer Mark Ronson, who’s responsible for commercial hits by Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney as well as his own collaboration with Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk.”
Purist rock dudes might be inclined to think that Homme’s riffs would squish posh Brit producer Ronson like a bug, but on “The Way You Used to Do,” Ronson puts up a good fight.
Featuring a boogie rock guitar line that seems ripped from 1970s arenabusters Foghat and Black Oak Arkansas, on “The Way You Used to Do” the band manages to inject new life into the so-called country funk movement of decades past.
It’s an admirable, gutsy turn into new terrain. Plus, like Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and Black Oak Arkansas’ “Hot & Nasty,” Queens’ new groover is, according to Homme, about sex. But it’s a complicated situation. In addition to being a rock star, Homme and his wife, Brody Dalle (former leader of the Distillers), are the parents of three young children.
When Homme delivers lines about meeting her he seems not to be singing about a groupie or a onenight stand but his future life partner. “Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream? / Fine with either,” Homme wonders, before giving a shout-out to his kids: “Gave birth to monsters who will terrorize normalcy / Yeah, they’ll terrorize.”
Shannon Lay “All This Life Going Down” (Do Not Disturb)
The new video for the erstwhile Feels’ singer and guitarist sees her strumming her Fender while perched atop a black cat named Blood. The cat’s half asleep and likely purring. The musician is offering a spiraling guitar melody.
The song itself, like the cat, doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, nor does Lay seem anxious. Rather, she’s sitting and singing about resting and finding comfort within fears, no big deal, living in the moment and reveling in “all this life going down.”
JOSH HOMME of Queens of the Stone Age sings about his family.