Saturday, 15 June 2013

This Week - Sigur Rós, Queens Of The Stone Age and Filter

Iceland's finest Sigur Rós are usually predictable and safe. You know what to expect from their music: the soaring instrumentation, string arrangements, stirring piano, big guitars and angelic floating vocals all add to the glorious mix. But this time, a year after the release of the subtle beauty of Valtari, the departure of founding member Kjartan Sveinsson, and nearly ten years on from the masterpiece Takk, Sigur Rós have gone in a new direction. Kveikur is positively industrial, harsh and magnificently raw, like Takk in a blender. The core of the album is focused around the wonderful voice of Jónsi Birgisson, which is the big difference from the piano-led Takk and the controlled chaos of Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. Opening song Brennisteinn sets the mood perfectly, with a backdrop of grinding machinery and melodic vocals, it introduces the new brutal landscape. Hrafntinna arrives like something from the Game Of Thrones soundtrack before Ísjaki, the album's big highlight and a supreme combination of Jónsi and the band driven forward by Orri Páll Dýrason's drums. After this build-up, Kveikur never reaches the same heights but Stormur is another emotive piece with Jónsi's unique voice shining through. The dark title track makes way for the lighter Rafstraumur and the simple closer Var brings this strange, intriguing adventure to an end. This is the sound of Sigur Rós shaking off the past to make a raw, fractured, yet emotional record.

Josh Homme is a genius but life as a genius in Queens Of The Stone Age is not easy. Homme was hospitalised in 2010 and had to 'fire' drummer Joey Castillo about a third of the way through recording new album, ...Like Clockwork, to bring in Dave Grohl. Former bassist Nick Oliveri provides backing vocals on a couple of tracks but has not officially rejoined the band, and Homme has brought in guests Mark Lanegan, Trent Reznor, Alex Turner, Jake Shears and Elton John (yes, really). In spite of this turmoil and a host of side-projects (most notably the brilliant Them Crooked Vultures), Queens Of The Stone Age remains a solid, coherent and formidable musical force. That said, ...Like Clockwork feels like a band fighting themselves and the future; but ultimately it's rewarding. Darkness is everywhere, even in its lighter, more positive moments and the approach is much more interesting than the listless Era Vulgaris. As always Troy Van Leeuwen is excellent, providing supreme guitar work, while Grohl and the much maligned Castillo add solid percussion. This is evident from attention-grabbing prog-rock opener Keep Your Eyes Peeled, followed by the equally impressive I Sat By The Ocean. The Vampyre Of Time And Memory is something of a departure but Homme's subtle vocals and more incredible guitar work create an uneasy yet satisfying atmosphere. If I Had A Tail, Fairweather Friends and Smooth Sailing are instant highlights while Kalopsia is verging on Pink Floyd, until the last minute and half brings the noise. The title track closes the album in style, with Homme's delicate falsetto and piano making way for startling guitars and drums(this time from Jon Theodore (ex-Mars Volta). ...Like Clockwork is order from chaos and the best Queens Of The Stone Age album since Songs For The Deaf.

Filter, lead by Richard Patrick - brother of actor Robert and former touring guitarist in Nine Inch Nails, has not had a typical life as a band. With many more ex-members than current personal, and a very new present line-up, Filter are a different band than that of the mid to late nineties. Short Bus and Title Of Record remained their best work but new album The Sun Comes Out Tonight takes the approach of 2010's The Trouble With Angels and provides some genuinely excellent results. The songs fall into two styles - venomous vitriol (opener We Hate It When You Get What You Want, What Do You Say and This Finger's For You) and more reflective acoustic style (the wonderful Surprise, the elegant pop of First You Break It and the sweet It's My Time). The title track is something in between while Take That Knife Out Of My Back deftly switches from soft to hard - but Filter remain a schizophrenic outfit, able to produce full-on alt-metal and light, airy pop with equal and effortless ease. Closer It's Just You is the album's most coherent and unique moments, as it seems to transcend this juxtaposition. The Sun Comes Out Tonight is Filter at their best and this is a tremendous, and worthwhile, comeback.

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