Review Summary: 'Volumes 11 & 12' is a lean, mean rocking machine.
The Desert Sessions. For some, it’s a name that will hold absolutely no meaning or worth, and considering how long the project has been out of commission, it’s completely understandable why. The last time we saw The Desert Sessions active was way back in 2003 – that was sixteen years ago, and a lengthy hiatus to say the least. But with the way this year has pieced itself together so far, it seems harmonious – poetic even – that Homme would decide to dust off this labour of love now. The elephant in the room is obvious; why should anyone give half a damn about a two-bit collaborative project from nearly two decades ago? And for me, it’s a relatively easy concern to answer: it’s simply because of the project’s unique ethics – its mantra. Assemble an eclectic team of musicians, invite them out into the middle of the desert to jam with like-minded and – more intentionally speaking – less like-minded people just to see what happens. Recent interviews with Josh Homme have revealed that the very core of The Desert Sessions is as spiritual and psychological as it is experimental; you are out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other artists that have a very different way of doing things. It’s designed to pull the artist out of his/her comfort zone – a calculated act made to question everything about their person, right down to asking themselves why they even make music in the first place. As such, the results of The Desert Sessions, while sonically distinct to a certain extent (i.e., Josh’s vocal and guitar contributions work as stabilising pillars of familiarity), brings a relatively formless framework that has shown some legitimately bizarre and brilliant moments from the project’s initial six-year stint of recording.
Another alluring quality is that, though Josh Homme manipulates the strings behind the scenes, it’s a faceless project that lets the music breath and speak freely. The funny thing is, even if you have never heard of The Desert Sessions before, you’ll have heard some of the results from it if you’ve followed QOTSA in some capacity. Some of the jams from these sessions have eventually turned into Queens of the Stone Age songs before, ala “Avon”, “Make it Wit Chu” and “Hangin' Tree”, proving to be a point of reference that extends beyond being just another side-project. Vol.11 & 12
brings its most diverse batch of artists to date, and tells its tale in the most effective and succinct way possible. Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top fame opens the album up in stellar fashion; a gentle easing of Billy’s soft croons over 90s-infused industrial electronics, warming you up before busting out with sporadic Queens-y guitar licks and a pumping rhythm section. The album doubles down on the QOTSA influences for “Noses in Roses, Forever”, a track that brings a lot of latter-day Queens to the table, with its bustling bass grooves and scintillating solos. For those gasps of disappointment that Vol.11 & 12
may lack imagination, fear not, it has a few surprises lined up. It should also be noted that “Noses in Roses, Forever” does indeed sit close to Homme’s day job, but then it also thinks outside of the box enough to make more daring actions on what your typical QOTSA song would offer; a track which self-indulges and delivers plenty of twists and turns along the way.
I’d also like to highlight that from any song past “Noses in Roses, Forever”, any preconceptions made about this being QOTSA-lite with guests, they will be surprised by the end of the record. This is, largely, a psychedelic journey, filled with weird little moments that add colour to the canvas. The folk-rock epic “If You Run” is a more conventional song to enjoy, the scathing punker “Crucifire” should keep heavy rock fans amused, and the haunting ballad “Easier Said Than Done” works as a grand conclusion for the album, but if nothing else, these numbers function more as the bricks of Vol.11 & 12
; anything in between works as the eccentric and colourful mortar. The exotic instrumentation on “Far East For the Trees”, which, as the name suggests, bases itself on Eastern styles of music, with lavish underlays and a penchant for the psychedelics. Then there’s the Zappa-esque “Chic Tweetz”, which sounds like the session musicians really threw the wackiest ideas they had at the song and had a load of fun playing it to boot. While Jake Shears’ excellently sung “Something You Can’t See” has an odour of Tame Impala at the heart of it – a rock tune filled to the brim with bright, punchy instrumentals and infectious melodies.
There’s little to complain about here, honestly. I think the only flaws I have with Vol.11 & 12
fall on the things it doesn’t utilise to the fullest. Les Claypool for instance might as well have not bothered contributing to the album, as he isn’t present vocally, nor does his bass playing stand up like it normally does. With the exception of the double bass on “Far East For the Trees” – which I assume is Les’ playing, as it has that distinct slide of his – it’s hard to tell where he really put his stamp on the album. He’s just so underutilised it seems like a massive shame, and a quality the album could have greatly benefited from had he brought more to the table. But, of course, that’s half of The Desert Sessions’ point, isn’t it? To subvert a lot of your expectations and create a fresh sound with interesting people. The important takeaway from this is that it is a really fun record to listen to. It’s short, it’s tightly written, and it will cater to a broad demographic of listeners, and there’s not much more you can ask for from that, is there?
FORMAT//EDITIONS: DIGITAL/̶/̶C̶D̶/̶/̶V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶/̶/̶V̶A̶R̶I̶O̶U̶S̶ ̶B̶U̶N̶D̶L̶E̶S̶
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: N/A
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://store.qotsa.com/collections/desert-sessions-volumes-11-12