Album review

Desert Sessions :
The Desert Sessions 9 & 10

Ipecac Recordings

Desert Sessions : The Desert Sessions 9 & 10Being new to The Desert Sessions I must admit I was a little hesitant about an album that was written and recorded in just eight days by what seemed to be a bunch of drug-enchanted artist buddies off on a purist, neo-hippy musical retreat in some obscure Californian desert ranch (actually the legendary Rancho De La Luna). Ordinarily, I might have given this a miss. But then this isn't an ordinary album, and I'm extremely glad that didn't pass this experience by, as they don't come along in this variety very often.
    But then, the man steering this creative beast is Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) - singer, songwriter and by all accounts something of a musical genius. To conceive and realise a collaborative project like this, and actually make it work musically is a task that most musicians would steer well away from, but this guy seems to thrive in the most obscure settings . . . the desert for example.
    Joining Homme on this melodious journey of discovery are the inimitable vocal and instrumental talent of PJ Harvey as well as a fistful of familiar friends from Queens Of The Stone Age, not to mention Twiggy Ramirez (ex-Marilyn Manson), Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality) and Dean Ween (Ween). It's quite a line up on paper, but whether it all amounts to anything in reality is another matter entirely.

This question is answered almost immediately with the clash rock guitar and melodramatic warbling vocals of Dead In Love with its theatrical, psychedelic Mercury Rev-style instrumental crescendo. This is pure music, undiluted and straight from the bottle. And although not all tracks will be to everyone's personal taste there's no denying that you just can't manufacture this stuff, which is why this album is such a treat.
    Next comes the sublimely funky, toe-tappingly cool I Wanna Make It Wit Chu, with licks that linger long after the song is over. Covered In Punk's Blood sounds like a guitar solo has escaped from a 1980s metal band and is manifesting itself in Rancho De La Luna in all its retro-rock, virtuoso glory.
    And it's not just guitar solos which are rocking this ranch - enter PJ Harvey who sounds as though she's just been released from a place where she wasn't allowed to sing much, as she lets fly with that uniquely powerful and unmistakable voice. In There Will Never Be Another Time her haunting, bare voice drips roaming melodies over the rapid, rhythmic strum of a Spanish guitar in a truly evocative performance. And she's every bit as loaded and menacing when teamed up with Homme for the quirky, distorted Crawl Home with its brooding, murky intro and its catchy, lilting chorus. Then Powdered Wig Machine is another story altogether as Harvey's voice wails and rolls with lingering poignancy over a conspicuous electro-looping, lo-fi backdrop.

Essentially this album is all about the music; kicking up the dust and getting back to the roots. Passion rules over production and this is as rough and ready as you're likely to find it. As Homme says "It's easy to forget that this all starts from playing in your garage and loving it." And at times this album sounds like it could have been recorded in a garage, but every track is accompanied by a rare sense of unselfconscious enjoyment, which keeps it accessible, despite the dizzying jumble of styles.
    What could have so easily been dismissed as a pretentious exercise in drugged up, artistic self-indulgence actually transpires to be a collection of highly diverse, refreshingly inventive and provocative tracks. With this album Josh Homme has created in 8 days what many artists spend years trying to achieve - something authentically original. Which has to be well worth a listen.

:: Tom West

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