Somewhere in the barren recesses, there lays a diamond amongst the sand. A true jewel of musical sound that laid buried deep, and almost in plain sight. This diamond was the strange, wonderful, and occult compilations known as The Desert Sessions; a love-child of Joshua Homme, Chris Goss, Samantha Maloney, Mark Lanegan, and the numerous personas that stemmed from Cole Jontrane, Nigel Thistlewaityourturner III, Gross, Alain The Mighty, Natasha The Great, and even Joshua The Mildly Entertaining. From these laidback, experimental sessions of recording, some of the greatest Queens of The Stone Age tracks, features, and products have come to fruition.
Volume 7 (Gypsy Marches) & Volume 8 (Can you See Under My Thumb?… There You Are) are a compilation effort of both talented and experimental instrumentalists and vocalist that create an intriguing approach to a double sided album. Almost in no correlation, Volume 7 begins with “Don’t Drink Poison,” a promiscuous styled lumber of stylish cymbals and tom percussive work that almost borders on a Middle-Eastern sound of sitars which slowly transfigures into a march of snare drums and horrific chants. The string work on the first portion of “Don’t Drink Poison” is enticing and is reminiscing of a fantastic dinner party, while the second portion becomes a sudden ritualistic trial of short, bursts of knives that cut through the sound and become quite animalistic. Even as the track frequently switches between these two styles, “Don’t Drink Poison” is thrilling and keeps a consistent flow which drones out into “Hanging Tree.”
As Queens of The Stone Age later revamped the track, “Hanging Tree” uses Mark Lanegan as the main vocalist and his stone-dead voice is chilling, but still tender when letting out the subtle cries of the daunting setting. Lanegan describes, “Round the hanging tree, Swing in the breeze. In the summer son, as we two are one.” Of course while he nearly whispers these lines, the instrumentation behind him is similar to a Spanish/Mexican dance track where the acoustic guitar is played in a certain manner and the percussion is focuses on drawing attention to the pounding tom drums. Then, in succession, the track “Winners” slides into frame and is more of a joke than anything. It features a funky electronic beat and has different voices reading names of students as they proclaim, “The following students in your high school were winners.” It shows the level of variety and the care-free attitude that the musicians had when forming the Desert Sessions’ records. They were meant for experimentation and to change the formula of music.
The track “Winners” and the following, “Polly Wants A Crack Rock” are polar opposites and the jump is almost jarring. The sudden four beat count-in from the drumsticks is the first opening of the gates into one of the best written and most musically progressive tracks on Volume 7. “Polly Wants A Crack Rock” is catchy, with a punk style of percussion and the guitar being a flurry and flash of simple, but memorable fret-board maneuvers. The vocal aspect is the most predominate and Nick El-Dorado does a beautiful job of illustrating an addiction to crack with sudden huffs and inhales as a backing piece to his vocals of “Polly wants a crack rock, Polly’s on the wrong block.” Even from the jumps from the first, “All dressed up, nowhere to hold…” to then the second verse where El-Dorado screams, “All fucked up, hanging around,” is a sudden, but effective lash of energy that segues into the final moments where the following track, “Up In Hell” can shuffle in.
The final track of Volume 7, “Up In Hell” is subtle in the introduction but quickly changes into a crush of percussion and claps that echo through the track, even the chorus features a band of people in unison stating, “Up in Hell.” The guitar work is a shining example of how unfiltered expression can make for a solid display of precision as the entire work feels like a guitar-solo dedicated to overlaying extra noise over an already deeply layered track. “Up In Hell” is an effective transition of cult-esque chanting, ritualistic drums, and the final notes of the guitar acting like a wave to subdue all the sound, paving the way for Volume 8.
“Nenada” is the first track to grace Volume 8 and is a straight-forward track of a continuous jam session of hi-hat clasps, chanting, and guitar work that shines through into the later work of Queens of The Stone Age. Volume 8 is a much slower, more gentle side than its predecessor and the final track, “Making A Cross” is a perfect example of this sulking approach. It is a ballad of acoustic guitars and a crawling advance toward percussion that acts more as a finale. “Making A Cross” is beautiful and is a well-placed closer to an album of experimentation and oddities. An album that destroys genre and instead focuses on creating whatever was wanted, ignoring the rule book and adapting to a new order.