Album Review: Desert Sessions Vol. 11 & 12
‘In the desert you can’t remember your name, ‘cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.’ So says the song by ’70s AOR types America. It’s a feeling Josh Homme knows well. Having grown up in California’s Palm Desert, he’s familiar with the way the isolation and infinite expanse of the environment can get into your bones, can make your soul vibrate at a different rate than in the city. It’s why his first band, Kyuss, sounded like they did, why it seemed so obvious, so natural, that they would play shows in the desert that would become the stuff of legend.
Thus, it’s also natural that Josh should want to bring in outsiders to jam way out in the hot, dusty middle of nowhere, to see what the environment does to them and their creative minds. Now in its 11th and 12th dispatch, The Desert Sessions have been a frequently bizarre, often brilliant, occasionally ridiculous and always star-studded project, but this latest offering may be the most extreme in every respect of all the volumes.
Some of the names gathered here will make immediate, almost expected sense. ZZ Top mainman Billy Gibbons, for instance, is a forehead-slappingly obvious fit, exuding ultimate cool as he sings on opener Move Together, and adds slinking riffs to Noses In Roses, Forever. So too is Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, a man possessed of a similar sense of cool to Josh, who adds a thrust to the roaring Crucifire and Something You Can’t See. That eccentric Primus bass loon Les Claypool can be heard weaving his way through Far East For The Trees feels so right you can smell it.
But it’s in the curveballs where the full extent of this project’s spirit makes sense. Where else will you find Matt ‘Toast Of London’ Berry crooning along to Chic Tweetz, a song quite unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else? And this is the point: get a bunch of cats together in a unique environment, where there are no distractions, even if you wanted them, and see what comes out. Everything here is spontaneous, as if trying to capture inspiration on tape before it flies out the window, lost forever, and no two things sound the same. Given the number of people involved, it crucially all gels properly into something all of its own, rather than disparate parts that won’t mix no matter how hard they’re shaken.
In some ways, this is a telegraph from an older way of making records – where in the studio you are genuinely cut off, as would have been the case in the ‘60s or ‘70s. But it’s also a timeless salute to human connection through, strangely, hermitage. And, be honest, you wish you could have been a fly on the dusty walls during its creation.
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According to the band’s Instagram, the exchange appears to be all in good humor.