Harping On About Music

The harp is an otherworldly instrument, rooted in the deepest depths of our civilisational soil, branched out from the Andes to Ireland to India. In the same way that we have the original language of Proto-Indo-European, the ‘lost’ language in which all our diverse languages take root, the harp is the proto-instrument in which all our diverse instruments take root; the first medium through which we learned a more beautiful, instrumental language.

The harp stretches back to the earliest known civilisation, Sumer

I remember reading old stories with pictures of the harp and the lute. I’ve seen a harp played on the television. I see it on Guinness cans. Only recently did I see one played in person for the first time, by an Asian lady busking here in Brighton. Though it seemed out of place at first glance, the arrangement is timeless (hence why we have harpists play at weddings and the like); the instrument itself was beautiful, the tune tranquil, the player peaceful. It’s an almightily welcome change from Sheeran’s superficial shite (“I’m in love with the shape of you/I’m in love with your body”), which is the beginning busker’s go-to material. It’s also preferable to the potty hippie who busks in Brighton with assorted pots and pans scattered about his person, playing them as if they were drums. That novelty soon wears off, along with your eardrums.

The harp might be a timeless instrument at the deepest root of our musical tradition, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be novel; the oldest root of the musical tree might seem distant or distinct from its youngest branch, but they are still connected, they are still the same tree. The root and branch replenish one another: the root anchored within the soil of our musical tradition, the branch feeding from the fresh rays of today’s talent. One cannot do too long without the other.

I’m going to present three examples where we can behold the root, the harp, and its chordophonic descendants, the piano and guitar, revivified by modern music played by modern-day musicians. Enjoy.

 

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Our first example is a rendition of a relatively young rock song, Plug In Baby by Muse, played on a harp. Plug In Baby is an intense piece of music in its own right, featuring a ringing falsetto and an iconic, award-winning riff that only Muse could combine. Transposing several of its elements—the riff, the jumpy bass-line, the vocals, and a drumbeat—into a harp arrangement is difficult to comprehend, but easy to enjoy. The following is by British harpist Amy Turk, have a listen.

 

2.

If you were to push a harp over onto its side, put legs underneath it, a lid on top of it, and append a keyboard to its strings: you have a piano! Like root and branch they seem, at first glance, distinctly different. The piano is one of the musical tree’s most productive and beautiful branches. But even the most modern pianist—to my knowledge—cannot provide a drumbeat whilst playing; but then again they don’t need to drum to stir the soul, the piano works just fine. It works fine especially if the arrangement is a rendition of one of Pink Floyd’s masterpieces, Wish You Were Here. The following is by Vika Yermolyeva, a kickass Ukrainian pianist with a knack for making piano arrangements out of popular rock and metal songs, which to her credit turn out to be as head-banging as the originals. Or, in this instance, as tear-jerking.

 

3.

The guitar branch is also thick and productive; it generated much of the musical tree’s growth in the twentieth century, although it would be a mistake to assume that it had stopped growing. Musicians will innovate or invent with what they are given; like the potty Brightonian with his sundry crocks, pots and pans. Or, more tolerably and quite terrifically, this Italian guitarist with his three-headed hydra of an instrument. It comprises two guitars, for which he uses his left hand mostly, and an upside-down bass guitar and several miniature ‘snares’ for hand drumming, for both of which he uses his right hand. Luca Stricagnoli transposes the vocals of Feel Good Inc by Gorillaz ft. De La Soul; still more, he effectively instrumentalises the hip-hop trio’s rap whilst keeping a consistent beat for much of the piece. As with the harpist, it’s incredible stuff, and enormously enjoyable to watch and listen to.

 

Honourable Mentions

Pianist rocking Guns ‘n’ Roses

Twin harpists rocking Metallica 

Harp guitarist rocking Pink Floyd 

Kids These Days

May I be permitted to say, at just twenty-five years of age: “Kids these days”? I can think of no better three words to sum up three years of university.

Allow me to explain. Do you recall the children who forever complained of boredom? You might have a group of colleagues (or it may be all of them) who are incapable of conversing without complaining. And we all know a person for whom life is one big, protracted complaint. You may find yourself cajoled subconsciously into complaining along with them, especially if it’s a group of complainers.

The ‘kids these days’ at university studying humanities courses (philosophy, politics, literature, art, etcetera) I have generally found to be stupendous and unrelenting complainers. When I still suffered myself to study alongside them, my ears would ring with students bleating and repeating complaints about the readings, the essays, the lecturers, their supposed friends, their political enemies, Trump, Brexit, blah, blah, blah. It’s like trying to revise whilst blasting the Teletubbies full belt; an almighty avalanche of meaningless debris derails your train of thought, and you come to resent the Teletubbies, who seem not to know any better, the poor sods.

I didn’t complain about it—well, until now, I guess—and I erected a complaint-barrier in space and time: by the end of the first-year, I rarely entered complaint spaces, like the library and common area, and I avoided student times, like the afternoons. Arriving at a common area before 7am in the morning was fantastic, and I learned a few things. Not only was it depopulated of students; and not only did the reeking cloud of complaint dissipate (bar the stickers declaring, “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS”, “UKIP MEMBERS ARE OFTEN VILE, HOMOPHOBIC AND RACIST”, “ALL BORDERS ARE RACIST!” etcetera¹).

It was repopulated. I’m going to talk a little about one of the people who repopulated the common area—caretaker Clive. A man with a wealth of knowledge that ‘kids these days’ clearly lack, who can compute conversations without complaint, who cleans up after students without ever complaining, in fact, who throughout two years of morning conversations I have never heard utter so much as a word of complaint.

Thinking about it, all of the people I respect and look up to are doggedly opposed to cultures of complaint. Thinking about these people, they have virtues in common, some of which I will now talk a bit about in respect of caretaker Clive.

Admittedly, once upon a time, I would complain if my commute in Guernsey took anything over fifteen minutes. More than a decade past retirement age, this proud caretaker takes an hour-long commute into Brighton every morning, Monday to Friday, to start at 6am. Many in Guernsey wouldn’t bother to get out of bed for some of the weather this man commuted through last winter.

But Clive isn’t looking for an excuse to stay in bed. After a near-fatal traffic accident some years ago, he’s grateful just for being able to get out of bed at all. Despite being old, achy and ill throughout last winter, he never misses a shift, he never complains, and he never fails to make me smile. He’s just so darn grateful for being alive, for being capable of working at all.

Students complain that they cannot get a job. Sure as hell they complain about their jobs when they do get them. What I respect about Clive is his attitude toward his job. He knows that he doesn’t need this job, nor the employer need him in particular for the job, yet he takes enormous pride in his work. He’s attentive and never complains about having to go the extra mile. And he could complain. He could complain about the wrappers and crumbs students leave littered on the floor and strewn upon the desktops, like ill-educated children would. He could complain about being obliged, in his mid-seventies, to learn how to use a computer so that he can take the online health and safety course required of him by his employer. He could complain that I distract him by chatting.

When Clive asks me how my work’s going, I tell him, and ask how his work is going. He’s always got something to say, about what he’s done today, what he’s got to do, what he would like to do. He’s proactive and he’s positive with regard to his role, whereas for many students, they are passive and negative about what they have to do. Clive looks to do his work to the best of his ability, taking pride in the work he has done, and looks for something else to do. Students procrastinate with their work, often doing the bare minimum required for a good or passing grade and only at the last minute, complaining whilst they do it, and often opting out by pulling sickies or requesting extensions.

What I like about Clive, too, is that he’s humble. From the few stories he’s imparted to me I think, Christ, surely you should be setting the world to rights with me, telling this young whippersnapper what’s what. But he’d never tell me how it is or what I should think, still less would he give me his opinion unless I asked for it. That kind of humility you can expect from a man who was born during World War II, one who voluntarily subjects himself to modern health and safety examinations.

Students? They have nought but regurgitated opinions, without substantive experience or unique insight to back them up; yet regurgitate them they will, until that reeking cloud of complaint forms above it. Trump (ad infinitum)! We have way too much work, patriarchy, Brexit, homophobia, institutional sexism, structural racism, so-and-so sets too much reading, cultural appropriation, blah de blah de trans de phobia de blah. Ungrateful, overbearing, uninspiring, Teletubby bullshit.

Well, well, well! Is it not somewhat… hypocritical that I’m complaining about complainers? I apologise sincerely for creating a complaint-cloud of my own. I thought it might be worth it, to give you glance from my vantage point; from which I see kids who think they know everything and the caretakers cleaning up after them, who could teach them a lesson or two. Best to clear off my own complaint-cloud and wrap up this wordy rant.

It’s been four months since I’ve written and posted anything on this website. I was absorbed in my final project for university, guilt-tripping myself whenever I wrote words that weren’t to do with it. I’ve just handed in my dissertation—hurrah, huzzah and hooray. Leaving the building, I bumped into my pal Clive the caretaker. He was surprised the time’s gone so fast, since I first met him in first-year sporting denim dungarees and a turquoise topknot. He was chuffed I’d finished the project, asking whether I’m still staying on to become a teacher.

“Still teaching, still at Brighton, but up at Falmer Campus. I’ll still be able to access this building though, so I’ll see you around in the mornings.”

“Well,” Clive started, “I’ve finally decided to pack it in. August I finish.”

A retirement well deserved, and about time too. I asked him what his wife thought, which was, “‘What on earth am I going to do with you at home all day?!’” He chuckled and I laughed. Clive will still be odd-jobbing for the oldies in his residences as he does presently, and no doubt keeping himself busy otherwise. As we shook hands and parted ways, I thought to myself: the one thing he won’t be doing in retirement is complaining.

 


¹ I’ve a couple of pictures of these pathetic stickers in another piece, in which I give some tips for hacking university life.

As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you. So if you liked this piece, or would like to publicly complain about it, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Liam.

 

iDrone About iPhones

Children seem to have grown out of the simplicity with which their forebears could be amused. Since ancient times, in nations from Africa to Asia, through empires Byzantine to British, simply rolling a hoop along the ground with a stick was a popular pastime, or even sport, depending on the culture.

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To somebody whose childhood hand-me-down book on technology could only predict the telephonic watch, this is thankfully still imaginable. It’s as charming as it is inspirational to behold how creative children become in conjuring their own games, as my mother once did, by persuading her sibling to jump on ‘dried’ cow poo, or as my mate did by blowing up big piles of the stuff with petards on our a Grammar School French exchange. (Why those were the first two examples to come to mind I do not know.)

As things advance, childhoods are changing. I daresay they are becoming more sterile—maybe for the best, moo-poo considered. Quite magically, but very literally, at the flick of a finger we can read about and watch and learn to play any game or instrument ever made on a bloomin’ watch. All of the information and all of the potential in the history of the world, yet the upcoming generations will find this sort of thing so normal as to be unworthy of comment, much like the mobile phone today. It’s a sad paradox, the iPhone, it contains an infinitude of potential but produces a uniformity of outcome. Give a boy an iPhone at eight, and it’ll give you the man.

Much as it nauseates me to have noticed, it is a standard procedure to satisfy/subdue the curiosity of pram-dwellers with iPhones. Confining the blossoming consciousness of a child to five-inches of screen showing some banal software developer’s creation seems to me to be as much expedience as entertainment. But that’s coming from somebody who has implicitly favoured exploding excrement to Angry Birds.

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Children aren’t changing, per se, but childhoods are. That many will grow up glued to screens, increasingly right from the get-go, will have an effect on society, one we can plainly see already. Everyone is aware of it, because (almost) everyone is on the bandwagon. As we ‘progress’ to buying the newest iPhones for the youngest members of the family, the formerly taboo becomes tiresomely normal. But I still reckon or hope that most my age would or should agree that it is rude to repeatedly use one’s phone in company (let alone the new normality of photographing and filming and Facebook-flicking). Who wants to go to a meal, a birthday party, a wedding, at which people constantly refer to their phones, as if to something more important, more meaningful, more interesting?

I found myself at a festival last year, sporting my great-grandmother-in-law’s floral peach of a dress, more flustered by cameraphones than flattered by compliments. Then I knew something was up. Kids filmed me unelicited for social media rather than talk to me for chirps. Then they watch the acts they’ve paid to see through said phones. Why not save yourself the money and watch it on a bigger screen and with nicer toilets at home? Your facebook feed’ll be full of twats like me you might have missed on your snapchat spree.

iPhonerism is as stark a reality at university. When hacking my first hungover lecture in first-year, I receded to the back of the hall to rot out of eye-and-nose-contact. This gave me a panoramic view of the attending students below: all phone and laptop screens, undoubtedly more looking at them then not. Given, some of the laptops would be used for taking notes. But, even then, really? I don’t complain just because my bugbear of hearing rat-a-tat-tat-tat when trying to listen to a lecturer. Knowing that these feckless wretches are costing themselves and their parents several tens of thousands of pounds to watch videos on facebook and play stick-man games—that bugs me more.

Distracted is what we are becoming. Overwhelmed by understimulating bollocks. We become distracted to the point of becoming distant. This distance is almost absolute here in English society, though it is rumoured that talking to strangers persists among the savages up north.

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Maybe you’ve noticed this distance at work, or with friends, or even in your family. You definitely won’t struggle to remember the last time you spoke to somebody whilst they were on their phone. You probably won’t have thought it abnormal, either. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “What is so feckin’ urgently interesting that you can’t suffer granting me your undivided attention for the sake of an afternoon/meal/conversation?”

It’s two years since I deleted Facebook. I never wrote about it because, who am I to preach? So I shan’t. (Now. Much.) But it opened my eyes to things and I made meaningful decisions thereafter. I was clocking myself still thinking things like, “That’ll be a good picture/status,” and, like a tic, whipping out my phone and going for facebook. I thought to myself—really thought, different to thinking whilst distracted—that this is actually sad. Can you not enjoy XYZ on its own account, instead of feeding it through facebook? I will understatedly term it an epiphany, which I can’t and won’t do justice by attempting to summarise it here. I will try, with a question. Am I going to die thinking, “Oh boy, do I wish I’d spent more time in my one and only life on this dear phone!” Don’t die thinking precisely the opposite. My dear phone now remains mostly at home and on flight-safe mode. The queer relationship that I had with it, unnecessarily and excessively posting/texting/photographing, was terminated; life is better, brighter and simpler because of it.

Yet it is smartphones that make life simpler, so they say. But I don’t reckon life is better, brighter or simpler for kids who are growing up in intimate relationships with them. Life’s not better if one can’t suffer company without referring and reporting to social media, it’s not brighter experienced through a camera lens, and it certainly isn’t simpler if your online persona, ‘likes’ and text messages come to matter as much as real relations with people.

I said I shan’t preach (much!), but—dare you look up long enough to see that this is actually happening?

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My partner—fiancée!—and I returned to our hostel in the woods outside of Münich after a long day walking and whiskeying about the place. I cooked up some grub and and we went to the wreck room with some vino, presumably to eat and drink alongside other happy holidayers. The room was large, with loads of seating, a ping-pong table and music. There were twelve humans in total and including us. Ten were on their God-forsaken phones. A sofa of young guys manning the music station, all heads bowed down, a sofa of young girls the same. The place was without chemistry, and if not for the music, would have been quiet. It would not have sounded as eerie as the scene looked to me. A Spanish teacher, to whom we were talking, shows us some funny videos on YouTube. It’s rude of me to not to look. He tells us that his job is unthinkable without technology; all of his students use iPads. An older American couple, who had been to the wonderful English Gardens in the city that day, grunted at each other without looking up.

Looking back at the scene, I can hardly help but think—perhaps they would have all had more fun by simply going outside, and playing in cow shit.

 


As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you. So if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Liam.

 

What is Philosophy?

Any philosopher’s argument which does not therapeutically treat human suffering is worthless; for just as there is no profit in medicine when it doesn’t expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy when it doesn’t expel the sufferings of the mind. – Epicurus

I tuned into a philosophy podcast the other day, cool dude that I am, to listen to a philosopher who has helped me incalculably with my studies and deciphering that incomprehensible eejit Hegel. At the end of the introductory segment, the radio presenters went from zero to sixty, from small talk to huge talk, and asked him: “What is philosophy?”

For context, this is a decorated speaker, author, educator and translator; a professor of philosophy, author of dozens of essays, translator of works from French and Latin into English, owner of his own philosophical counselling service, and uploader of well over a thousand videos on YouTube of various lessons and lectures he has given over the years. So what did he answer?

He refused to answer the question. He didn’t even give a second-order answer, either; instead, he said, chuckling, “I’m not a good person to answer that question unfortunately.

I have toyed with the idea of writing my own answer to this question for a while, and have made every excuse not to put pen to paper: the sheerness of its scope and a looming dissertation are the ones I’ve fallen back on. But hearing this poor sod being put on the spot, and in his defence during the last two minutes of the segment, has had me decide to answer it myself, but without (too much of) the philosophical terminology.

What is philosophy? The word is, unsurprisingly, of ancient Greek origin and is a compound of the two words philos, meaning ‘loving,’ and sophos, meaning ‘wise.’ So, etymologically, the word philosophy can be rendered as the ‘love of wisdom.’

But the Greeks didn’t just have one word for love, they were finicky about such things, and rightly so: there isn’t one type of love. You don’t love yourself the same way that you love a partner or your parents; to say that we love them in the same way would, to the Greeks at least, seem perverse. So they had six different words for different forms of love. Philautia is the love of self, which can go too far in its positive or negative aspects; one can be too altruistic or egotistical in nature. There’s eros, which is sexual love, for the Greeks it is associated with the ‘falling’ in love. Pragma is the obverse of falling in love; it is the standing in love, the kind of love keeping couples together through thick and thin. Ludus is thought of as playful love; think children playing together or adults dancing together, it is the love of fun and friendship. Agape is universal love, the love of humanity, which was translated into Latin as caritas, the word from which we derived our word ‘charity.’

The kind of love which is preserved in the word philosophy is philia. Often translated as ‘brotherly love,’ though one may do better to term it ‘brothers-in-arms love,’ it is the love of deepest friendship. It is a love expectant and deserving of loyalty and sacrifice; one might apply it to a parent’s love for their child or a soldier’s for their comrade in battle. It’s something deep and visceral.

It might seem odd to have a word imbued by so much real-life meaning residing within the word philosophy. And, do believe me, I don’t harbour an undying and brotherly love for Hegel. To fully understand what (I think) the Greeks were getting at, we need to unpack what this ‘philosophy’ might mean, first in theory and then in actuality, to find out how and why we might ever consider ourselves as lovers of wisdom in this intense sense.

Philosophy is a subject taught at sixth-form and university, one with a multitude of subspecies and sub-subspecies; there are philosophies of science, of nature, of right, of language, and so on. Before the scientific age, everything studied was called the philosophy of such and such.

But people often say, “That’s my philosophy.” You certainly wouldn’t hear somebody say, “That’s my science,” or “That’s my maths/chemistry/economics/biology” in the same manner. For the most part, people don’t develop and practise their own sciences. This is because science, for the most part, is a collection of validated facts about the world, apart from human experience. Such goes for maths and chemistry and economics and biology: you can be taught that 1+1=2, that the chemically affective agent in your pint was C2H5OH, that you produce surplus-value for your employer which is abstracted in the form of money, that your happiness is in fact an affect produced by your dopaminergic system—but none of this is your science, much less your philosophy.

How is philosophy different?

Science looks for truths about the world, as it is. Philosophy looks for truths about the good life, as it ought to be. Philosophy, in this sense that the Greeks meant it, is your theory of life insofar as it is practised in life. This in no way constitutes a theory or a science like the subjects aforementioned.

One can study the theory of natural selection, but it is not your theory; it informs your understanding about how nature evolves but does not thereby inform you about how you ought to act—lest you be driven purely to procreate.

Mathematics is not yours in the same way; it informs your ideas about calculus and geometry but not how you ought to act in day-to-day life—lest it be very boring.

This is a form of the complaint everybody made or heard at school: “Why am I taught (quadratic equations/photosynthetic cell adaptations) when I will never need to use it in real life?” Sciences are all well and good, telling you truths about the world as it is; but they do not tell you truths about how you ought to act in it. This is especially notable in our education system, in which you are force-fed facts you are told to retain just long enough to regurgitate onto an exam paper, never to (want to) consume them again.

Philosophy—your theory of life as it is practised in life—differs from science because it matters to how you live your life specifically¹. The point I’m here making is that everybody is a philosopher, whether consciously or unconsciously, and the quality of your philosophy has a direct and inestimable bearing on your life.

If your philosophy is, like so many sorry-ass students of the humanities nowadays, “our patriarchal society is rotten to its very core and must be overthrown,” then you will be miserable, not only personally, but just to be around².

If your philosophy is, despite all that life throws at you, “I am lucky to be alive,” then you will, in practically acting out that theory, feel lucky to be alive.

If your philosophy is, “life’s a drag,” then, at the office and the gym and the grandparent’s, it will drag, and drag, and drag, until you go back to the philosophical drawing board. (Another common complaint at school comes to mind: “Guernsey is so boring!” Read: “I am so bored and boring.”³)

If your philosophy is, as is often said by the wise and along with the school of stoic philosophers, “it could be worse,” then you will appreciate the good in your situation despite the bad, because “shit happens.”

Much philosophy is preserved within these little aphorisms, you’ll probably see all and sundry circulated throughout the social media sphere. But be assured that when one lives by them, they become more than mere statements. This is the way in which the Greeks meant the ‘love of wisdom,’ a love of deepest friendship, for what always comes with you in any time and space? Your thoughts: your philosophy. One can identify people with good philosophies, because they are usually the people who are happy and helpful and thankful across time and space, be it at home, on the bus, on a hospital bed, in a queue, at a funeral. Their theory of life copes with practical life better. If your philosophy is immature, then you mightn’t cope too well with a long day at work, when you break your leg or a parent passes away. If your philosophy is mature, you come home delighted with a hard day’s work, you pursue a pastime whilst recovering from your broken leg or become the rock on whom your family can depend when your parent passes on.

(TL;DR) In this ramble and in a roundabout way, I gave my own answer to the question “What is Philosophy?” We got there by way of the Greek definition; we opposed philosophy, as subjective with a direct bearing on life, to science, as objective and without that same bearing on life; and we finished by discussing some examples of philosophy in its relation to life. There’s so much more to be said, but alas it’s too much more. So we will save them for another time—perhaps in short pieces on different philosophies and their bearings on life—and finish with one of my favourite philosophical aphorisms.

Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. – Nietzsche

 


¹ “The man of science is a poor philosopher.” – Einstein

² “Everybody thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing himself.” – Tolstoy

³ “Boredom: The desire for desires.” – Tolstoy

 

As I’m not on social media, my writing is only read as much as it is circulated by readers like you; so if you liked this piece, please share and share alike, it would be greatly appreciated. Peace and chirps, Liam.

Villains by Queens of the Stone Age – Album Review

I remember when Muse released their album ‘2nd Law’ which kicked off with a song called Unsustainable. Not everyone’s bag of riffs, whizzes and whirrs, but it was nevertheless an interesting piece: in which a brazenly politicised but parodically modulated voice announced the ‘drop’ of a dubstepping guitar.

Muse, albeit massive moneymakers, are musicians first and foremost, so they didn’t fret whether the wider public, and perhaps their fanbase, would like the song. It was experimental, it was certainly different, and both in a relevant manner. Muse synthesised their own heavy sounds with the heavily synthetic sounds and beat of the then-popular dubstep genre to make a siren-song against disaster capitalism. I remember reading the criticism on social media: they have sold out!

True artists take their inspirations and sound from the past, they combine it with their inspirations and innovations in the present and, if successful, create a different and durable sound for the future. Perhaps Unsustainable was heavier on the ‘different’ than the ‘durable,’ but that’s a cynical take. My point is that, to whatever conscious extent, artists are receptacles for and expressions of their time, of the zeitgeist: this does not necessarily equal ‘selling out.’

Queens of the Stone Age’s new album ‘Villains’ is a sterling case in point. They have, for daring to contract uptown funky man Mark Ronson for the album’s production, ‘compromised’ their sound, they’ve ‘sold out.’

Frontman Josh Homme—producer of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Humbug’, of supergroup Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled belter, of Iggy Pop’s recent and well-received ‘Post-Pop Depression’ and of QOTSA’s last, ‘Like Clockwork’—has simply capitulated the band and its sound to Ronson’s funk, in all of its chirpy cheapness.

Or has he?

Villains’ is a nine-track neck-ache: head-banging and heart-wrenching, naughty and nice, sassy and serious. It’s QOTSA all over, still, just with added beat and bounce, with added Ronson. In the context of the above discussion, it’s surprisingly (and refreshingly)… familiar!

Its opener, Feet Don’t Fail Me, is a case in point: a long intro in their patently ghoulish sound, then an about-face into bouncy and excitable riffage. Ronson’s there insofar as you notice yourself nodding, tapping and shaking along to it, as a considerable portion of humanity did to Uptown Funk.

The next track and single, The Way You Used To Do, is the only explicit manifestation of Ronson’s input, and, unless I’m mistaken, it works well. It’s happy-clappy dance music. The beat and riff and rhythm are robotic, or “tight and vacuous” as Homme terms it, and tied together by some of the best bold-but-smooth vocals on any QOTSA album. The vacuity is uncharacteristically reflected lyrically, but ultimately not to the detriment of a beat-centric dance tune.

Such can’t be said for the following gem, Domesticated Animals, opening with the wail of guitars and a woof by the frontman, easing into a simple, sexy riff. We retain some catchiness in the chorus, ‘You get back up and sit back down/The revolution is one spin round,’ which is sung almost like an incantation. But we return to Homme’s punchily cynical poetry, ‘All for one, all for naught,’ sung sardonically in verse and with weight over the bridge; the swelling spasms of vocals, ‘I’ll tell you where the gold is,’ and guitar stir the (domesticated) animal inside us before cruising to a conclusion punctuated by a savage scream by bassist, Shuman. (N.B. The live version is, in this author’s opinion, (even) better.)

Fortress is of the QOTSA staple, ‘sweet song wrapped in melancholic rock,’ hitherto heard in Suture Up Your Future and I Never Came, with added whizz and whirr by way of keys and slide-guitar; it’s steady, easy listening, and arguably the only dud on the record.

Head Like a Haunted House announces the arrival of both drummer and bassist, the latter of whom heads the frantic rollercoaster, well matched with breathless bravado, ‘A misdiagnosis with the most-est,’ disjointed drugginess, ‘Drink the kool-aid and swallow the pills/Say that you don’t and you won’t but you will’ and more macho mumbo-jumbo on vocals. It’s a loopy, satisfying ride, vying with the opening track for head-banger of the album.

Un-Reborn Again is thick and fuzzy, a rhythmic rocker speaking to an age of cheesy synth and singing to youthful days long bygone. Another effective about-face pulls the beat from under the listener, now nodding along to a luscious orchestral breakdown, complete with soulful lead and backing vocals laid over violins; beautiful stuff.

The coherence of a freewheeling bass-line, ethereal keywork and incremental progressions on guitar in Hideaway is affecting at worst and truly poignant at best; QOTSA more than suit this style, as exemplified in I Appear Missing and …Like Clockwork, and further perfected in this peach.

The Evil Has Landed speaks to how far they’ve come from, yet just how close they’ve stuck to, their bread and butter: sassy, slightly feminine, irresistible sing-along rock ‘n’ roll. It’s been a whole decade since ‘Era Vulgaris,’ yet one can hear the rapid riffing of 3’s and 7’s, the macabre intonations of Sick, Sick, Sick. It’s all a bit disjointed, until it is (counter-intuitively) brought together in a crescendo leading to the best—or, rather, my favourite—about-face on the album at the five minute mark: ‘Here… we… come!/Get out of the way-ay! Care not… what the people say-ay!’ Beautiful, inspired, prompt: they take risks boldly on the album and this track; for its finesse and spiritedness in execution, it works out.

The album ends with a titular nod in Villains of Circumstance, a melancholy musing on the difficulties of long-term relationships, ‘I miss you now, what’s come over me?/We’re hostages of geography.’ Opening with a rousingly void intro, swinging into a bass-line pendulum, developing from a moseying to ballsier ballad, then concluding the song and culminating the album with a weird and wonderful urgency. Again, it works.

It all works, despite the directions being at once sad and salacious, pathetic and powerful, they somehow make it work again and again. The proof is in the pudding: Ronson’s production wasn’t necessary but it was a novelty the band fed off of fantastically. Criticism of the conspicuous absence of drums might be expected, but I cannot imagine the beat and shake to the more dancey tracks would remain if there were fills and spurts ‘interrupting’ them. My criticism? The album is too short and the time until the next, if there is one, too long.

 


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