Welcome back to IRL, our series dedicated to the things that Engadget writers play, use, watch and listen to. This week, we're focusing on music and podcasts, with new albums from Queens of the Stone Age and Brand New. Sandwiched between the nostalgia-filled music is a... nostalgia-filled podcast about old Hollywood.
Queens of the Stone Age
Timothy J. Seppala
When I heard Queens of the Stone Age were releasing a new album this year, I was cagey. I've been a fan since 2000's Rated R, but each album following 2002's perfect Songs for the Deaf got progressively less interesting. Like Clockwork from 2013 was a step in the right direction, but its bleak take on Queens' brand of guitar rock didn't do much to reignite my once-rabid fandom. I'm not sure what ringleader Josh Homme was going through at the time, but it stripped away one of my favorite things about the band's music: the sense that everyone was having fun while making it.
So I was cautiously optimistic as singles "The Way You used to Do" and "The Evil Has Landed" arrived ahead of Villains' release. They made me reflexively tap my foot, but I wasn't sure how they'd fit into the rest of the album. Rather than streaming it the other Friday during work, I waited to grab the deluxe vinyl from my local record store that night so I could give it my full attention versus just having it on as background noise (like I'm doing as I write this). Hashtag best decision.
I could go on about the album's sonics and how good the vinyl sounds, what with its clarity and massive amounts of dynamic range, but at the risk of being "that guy," I'll just say it the mixing and mastering are awesome and move on. The $35 deluxe edition comes with 14 12x12-inch prints featuring killer artwork by Boneface. The band could've easily charged $20 each for these, but instead they're an awesome value-add and will soon be framed and hanging on my office walls.
Like Clockwork, the album itself feels incredibly focused, and the lack of guest spots (a staple of past records) drives the point home further. Every song sounds distinct from the one that came before it, and just as important, that sense of "fun" is everywhere, starting with album opener "Feet Don't Fail Me" and never letting up. Even slower songs like the synth-heavy, experimental "Fortress" feel like the band was enjoying taking a left turn from its usual style. If there's anything to take away from Villains, it's that Queens of the Stone Age want to make you boogie again.
You Must Remember This
Much has been written about You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth's podcast about the golden age of Hollywood, but for years I resisted giving it a listen. The show started with single episodes focused on a particular star, functioning almost like a gossip column for a bygone era, but it quickly evolved into something much more. The first episode that truly grabbed me focused on Frances Farmer, an pre-war actor who is better known by my generation as the subject of a Nirvana track. As it turns out, the story Kurt Cobain believed, of a "bad girl" who was given a forced lobotomy, was completely fabricated by a biographer, and the true story is even more fascinating.
I'm around 80 episodes in now, and truly hooked. Longworth branched out from short, self-contained stories into larger tales, including a breathtaking 12-part profile of "Charles Manson's Hollywood," and most-recently -- at least in terms of what I've listened to -- a multi-episodic look back at the actors and directors labelled as communists and placed on the Hollywood Blacklist.
I'm really glad I finally listened to the recommendations and gave You Must Remember This a chance. Very few of the topics Longworth explores seem remotely interesting to me on paper, but each episode is gripping, informative and, often, moving.
Reviews Editor, Engadget UK
It's not a bad time to be getting old. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, Blink-182, American Football, Dashboard Confessional and many more have all released new music in the past 18 months or so. They share another common thread in that they all had a heyday of sorts around the turn of the century, during the formative years of many millennials. Brand New is another of these bands, known primarily for the legendary 2003 album Deja Entendu.
Last month, Brand New released Science Fiction, their first new album in some time, spoiling those of us that never 'grew out' of their emo/pop-punk/alt/whatever phase. Over the past few weeks, I've listened to the album several times, and it's not at all what I expected. Brand New actually released a lone, suitably rocking single last year titled "I Am A Nightmare." In contrast, Science Fiction is slow and considered.
It's not so much melancholic or heavy, but just generally 'dark.' The album opens with what sounds like a grainy recording of an old therapy session, and there are similar, nigh creepy interludes throughout. From start to finish, Science Fiction is heavily produced, from the guitar effects of opener Lit Me Up to the dreamy, several-minute-long outro of the final track, "Batter Up."
There are no real anthems or mosh drops, and aside from a little screaming on "Same Logic/Teeth" and the repetitive riff of "Out Of Mana," the album seems to skirt on the fringes of alt rock, emo and even country at times. I'm not sure that I like it, as such, since it's quite the departure from classics like "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows," but it's an intriguing record all the same -- the Brand New equivalent of 'easy listening.'
Regardless of personal opinion, many Brand New fans already regard Science Fiction in a romantic, nostalgic light. Last year, the band all but revealed they're calling it quits in 2018, though there's still an air of mystery around that 'announcement.' There is speculation, then, that Science Fiction could be the band's last studio album, or perhaps there are stranger things afoot.
Brand New (again)
Senior News Editor
When discussing the discography of Brand New, the comparisons to Taking Back Sunday make for easy fodder given the history between the two bands. Taking Back Sunday had its high points in an on-going and prolific indie rock career, but the last two albums haven't been very good. Brand New on the other hand, continues its rise with its latest album Science Fiction.
This collection of songs feels like a logical progression from the tracks on 2009's Daisy, soaring and loud is some spots while more tame and brooding in others. Science Fiction serves as more evidence that Brand New's music has always been more interesting than Taking Back Sunday's dual vocalist approach to chorus hooks. You won't find catchy pop tunes so much with much of Brand New's song library, and Science Fiction continues that tendency.
Don't get me wrong, that's definitely not a bad thing. This is a very well done rock album. In fact, I think it's one of the best of the year thus far. I love how songs like "Waste" and "Same Logic/Teeth" start rather tame before building to a louder climax. Jesse Lacey's range of vocal talent is on display in both of those tracks in particular. Then there's "Could Never Be Heaven" which is much more like a soft ballad than a typical rock song with its finger-picked acoustic guitar. And yet, there's still plenty of Brand New's grungy guitars on display throughout.
If you're unfamiliar with the band, you may want to start with Deja Entendu to get a real sense of the progression Brand New's albums exhibit. However, you could also begin with The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me and still get a feel for how the current state of affairs came about. That said, Science Fiction isn't a bad first date either, mostly because it's a complete rock album with highs and lows, quiet verses and rumbling choruses. It's a shame that this could be the band's last, because I'm certainly interested to see what would come next.