Sound ‘Round: Queens of the Stone Age / LCD Soundsystem

Indie gods wrestle with the beat

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains (Matador)

Josh Homme’s latest artistic coup isn’t teaming with retro-minded and retrograde producer Mark Ronson, it’s not even his re-infatuation with the beat-centric robot rock he first forged in the California desert two decades ago. What’s got him stirred up is a re-invigorated appreciation for the air in his lungs — he’s a happy husband, even happier dad and the ringleader of millennial modernity’s most celebrated rock act. So count his seventh album with the Queens as his most jovial, pop-oriented and dance-friendly. Such redoubt optimism is appreciated during these troubled times, but the titular villains Homme fears are abstract, oblique and undefined. The bad guys aren’t the fundamentalists who targeted best bro and Eagle of Death Metal, Jesse Hughes, nor are they the corporate satans suffocating our democracy. No, Homme’s boogeyman is “circumstances,” a hollow generalization that means everything and nothing.  But even if his target is too big to fail, his intent is earnest and bolstered by nine songs bound by the groove and a desire to keep breathing. Best turn of phrase: “Going on a living spree / Any wanna come with me?” Best truism: “It ain’t if you fall, but how you rise that says who you really are.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “The Evil Had Landed” / “Fortress” / “The Way You Used to Do”

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (Excelsior Equity)

James Murphy behaved like an old soul from the get-go. Here is a man whose debut single came at the geriatric age of 32 with the prophetic title “Losing My Edge.” That was in 2002 when New York’s insular scene conquered the world in a sheet of secondhand smoke. His band’s zenith came in 2011 at Madison Square Garden during a supposed farewell concert which capped a decade of meshing frenzied electronica and rock’s debonair ambivalence. But Murphy’s grand finale was spoiled by his impulsiveness and an oversaturated festival market desperate for any headliner who’ll play. So here comes an album history had no reason to expect from an auteur losing his edge as promised. Murphy’s near-fatal flaw is a lack of vision. Where records of yesteryear were replete with a warehouse of grooves, his polyrhythms have turned flat and uninspired. Half of these 10 songs lack structure and stagnate with percussion apathy. His vocal inflections and lyrical platitudes don’t make up the difference, either. The exception is “Call the Police,” an anti-Trump number that awakens his paranoia and stirs his signature deadpan humor. While middle age and a mad world have him down, his love life appears resilient enough to get him through. At least that’s what I want to believe. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: “call the police” / “oh baby” / “tonite”

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