Songs of the Week: The National Battle Middle-Aged “Demons,” the Return of Paramore, and a Bonus Coachella Playlist
Queens of the Stone Age, “My God Is the Sun”
Queens of the Stone Age’s forthcoming … Like Clockwork is my favorite album of 2013. Now, I haven’t actually heard … Like Clockwork yet, other than the first single, “My God Is the Sun,” released this week. But I’m confident that “My God Is the Sun” will end up being only the fifth- or sixth-best track on the record. Because, while the song is pretty good, the album will be amazing — it has Dave Grohl on drums, Elton John on piano, Trent Reznor on Satanic vibes, Nick Oliveri on sub-Satanic vibes, and it has Josh Homme, the finest pop-metal tunesmith of his generation, back for the first time in six years making electrifying alt-rock kibble for nonexistent alt-rock radio stations. The only way this isn’t my album of the year is if the Homme-produced Mickey Melchiondo solo joint sees the light of day before ’13 is through — at which point my ecstatic 23-year-old self will rise from the dead and feast on the discarded pizza scraps of the living.
The National, “Demons”
If Alligator was the “early 30s and single” record, and Boxer was the “mid-30s and married” record, and High Violet was the “late 30s and married with kids” record, then the National’s upcoming LP Trouble Will Find Me arrives on schedule as the “early 40s and married with kids and creeping middle-age angst” record. That’s what “Demons” promises anyway, as Matt Berninger’s morose baritone plumbs new depths of “3 a.m. with a half-empty bottle of wine” throat gravel. “I can’t fight it anymore, I’m going through an awkward phase,” he says — all of your phases have been awkward, dude, as life inevitably is.
Paramore, “Fast in My Car”
Mid-’00s emo-pop “where are they now?” update: Fall Out Boy and Paramore have new albums out this month. They’re both bold and audacious stabs at so-called “artistic maturity.” One is really good, and the other is really not good. The not-good one is called Save Rock and Roll — as in, Kevin James “saved” cinematic comedy with Zookeeper — and melds obnoxiously bleating pop-punk with obnoxiously misguided hip-hop and R&B vocal and production affectations. The other is Paramore, a flawed (as in overstuffed) but rewarding 17-song callback to the spiky ’90s mainstream rock that singer-songwriter Hayley Williams was weaned on. A deliriously fun and assured stew of grunge guitars, sneaky ska rhythms, synth-pop ballads, and Dixie Chicks–ian country pop, Paramore ranks as one of 2013’s most pleasant surprises. My favorite song so far is probably “Fast in My Car,” maybe because it sounds like a long lost Elastica hit from 1995.
Kylesa, “Vulture’s Landing”
I’ll have more to say about Kylesa’s Ultraviolet when it comes out in May, but for now: If you have room in your life for just one Southern-fried psychedelic metal band, you are well-advised to make that band Kylesa. (I suggest starting with 2010’s Spiral Shadow.)
If you have room in your life for two Southern-fried psychedelic metal bands …
Steve Gunn, “Old Strange”
I’ve already gushed about Kurt Vile’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze on this site, so let’s briefly discuss his new guitar player. Steve Gunn is a star of sorts among aficionados of John Fahey–style instrumental acoustic picking, and he’s been inching his way, slowly and wearily, toward the mainstream, with last year’s fantastic Ocean Parkway (recorded with drummer John Truscinski as the Gunn-Truscinski Duo) garnering some of his strongest praise yet. While he was recently recruited for Vile’s touring band, Gunn will also be the opener for Vile’s spring shows in support of Time Off, a full band record (coming out June 18) featuring Gunn’s warmly delivered vocals. Time Off works the same easygoing territory as Pretty Daze, though with a stronger pastoral vibe and a residue of Deadhead jamminess. This solo version of “Old Strange” is a good snapshot of Time Off’s loose and shaggy American Beauty beauty.
Futurebirds, “Virginia Slims”
I cheer for this scrappy Athens, Georgia, cosmic country-rock group because it introduced the single best cosmic country-rock song — the Point Break nod “Johnny Utah” — of recent years into my life back in 2010. Thanks, once again, for that, fellas. “Virginia Slims” (from the new Baba Yaga, due out next week) isn’t perfect, but it is perfect for spring, so long as you’re fortunate enough to have access to a car and wide-open spaces to get lost in. The protagonist of this song sounds like he wants to get lost, too — he’s been burning too long, he’s sick of sleeping his life away, and his heart is crying out like a weeping pedal steel. People often don’t make it out of Futurebirds’ songs unscathed, though “Virginia Slims” is so lovely it’s probably worth sticking around for anyway.
I have no idea if Quentin Tarantino listens to Norwegian black metal — my guess is that he has an aversion to Wagnerian Europeans — but he should start with this song, because I really want to hear it in his next transgressive spaghetti Western revenge fantasy.
Beady Eye, “Flick of the Finger”
I tend to judge solo material from the Gallagher brothers — because I’ve wasted enough time contemplating Liam’s Beady Eye and Noel’s High Flying Birds to have established criteria for assessing them — against the high standards of mid-’90s Oasis B-sides. Noel’s first solo record had four songs that were prime-era B-sides worthy; Beady Eye had none until “Flick of the Finger,” a horn-addled spazz-out that reminds me of a more sinister version of “Round Are Way.” Talk about pleasant surprises: Noel is going to have to come up with another “Fade Away” to top this.
Majical Cloudz, “Childhood’s End”
I bet you laughed at the band name until you heard the first 30 seconds of the song.
Anyone who’s reading this right now is probably not at Coachella — which also probably means that you’re seated comfortably in a temperature-controlled environment with relatively easy access to food, water, and bathroom facilities. How nice. But if you still feel like you’re missing something by not being at Coachella, here are 83 of the best songs that will almost certainly be played there over the weekend.