The Mothership is a four-piece alternative rock/grunge band from Seattle.  In March 2011, they released a debut three song EP.  That gave a reasonable taster of The Mothership’s sound, but this full length  released just six months later,  allows the band a longer – if not always broader – canvas on which to show off their talents.

The general mood of the record is quickly apparent once ‘Songbird’ kicks in.  After a slow intro peppered by trumpet, the band launches into a piece of chunky alternative rock, which could best be described as something from ‘Superunknown’-era Soundgarden if it were reworked by Joshua Homme.  The ominous pace captures the spirit of all that was great about Seattle in the 90s, but while it comes with an undeniably plodding approach, it never actually feels leaden at all. While the band sounds relatively weighty in their delivery, the DIY production is good enough to make ‘Ten Miles Wide’ sound finished, but not too shiny – which obviously, is just right for The Mothership’s chosen subgenre.  The “heavy but never leaden” feel applies to most of The Mothership’s best work; their arrangements often appear to move along rather briskly despite often being hugely riff heavy.  [As proved by Soundgarden’s second album ‘Louder Than Love’, it is easy enough to make a heavy record, but much harder to make such heaviness remain buoyant.  For the most part, that album sounded like a dragging dirge in the early 90s, and time has not improved things.  For a band whom would later prove themselves masters of their art, it has to be wondered how that 1989 outing went so horribly wrong. The Mothership’s work has no such problems here.]

‘The Plank’ comes in with another meaty riff, mixing typical Seattle-isms with a more groove-laden approach.  The twin guitars of John Beckman and Paul Fraser aren’t always subtle, but an occasional melody played in a higher key provides a great musical touch.  ‘No Minor’ allows drummer Will Andrews to lay down a slightly more complex rhythm, while a dual vocal is delivered with a 90s sneer.  Despite the lack of instant hook, there’s enough attitude here to grab the listener, recalling early Soundgarden and a few of their peers.  Those influences pulled from classic grunge should provide enough plaid-shirted thrills to those who still love early 90s (then) alternative music.

The more typical alt-rock styles take a rest during ‘Knifey Spooney’, as the band trade in their preferred approach for something much funkier.  A choppy guitar riff melds with a fluid bassline as the band tinker with something bordering on jam-band territory.  While there’s a dose of funk here that’s occasionally peppered with a slight Latin-eque mood, it’s not as if the band has suddenly started to channel Dave Matthews or Stephen Stills’ Manassas… There remains a strong alt-rock edge to the rhythm guitar and basslines, while Beckman’s vocal still retains enough ragged qualities to remind the listener of the truest roots of The Mothership’s music.

The acoustic blues-rock which begins ‘Ugly Love’ owes a huge debt to The Screaming Trees – perhaps more specifically Mark Lanegan’s solo debut ‘The Winding Sheet’ – with more obviously laid back qualities.  Echoing electric guitar parts cutting between the woozy vocals are a great flourish and in turn have an equally fantastic sound.  Things turn full electric for the choruses, when The Mothership sounds as if they’re embarking on their own Desert Session.  In all, this track is superb – without doubt, ‘Ten Miles Wide’s finest moment.  Similarly, the acoustic based ‘Burn Pile’ aims for atmospheres over bombast, allowing the vocal to carry most of the tune.  Extra atmosphere comes via a few swirly reverb sounds, making this downbeat number the ideal way to wind things down after the maximum rock posturing elsewhere.

There are three or four genuinely excellent songs found within ‘Ten Miles Wide’s twelve cuts, and a few more really solid offerings (with no outright duds).   Joining a whole barrage of bands keen to revisit alternative music of the early 90s, The Mothership’s first full length may often sound a tad predictable, but for those willing to spare the time, it should be a mostly enjoyable ride.

June 2012


The first thirty five minutes of King Locust’s 2010 release ‘Musk’ uses downtuned riffs for maximum impact.  While the core of their sound borrows from a lot of nineties grunge and alternative music, there are a few later influences – namely a few post-hardcore ones – cutting through their best songs.  It’s true there’s more than a hint of Alice In Chains scattered throughout this album, but as it progresses, it becomes obvious there’s far more to this band’s take on nineties revivalism than just recycling a few old fashioned grunge riffs.  Some of the end results may not always be entirely original – such is the nature of any kind of revivalism – but ‘Musk’s first half results in an incredible level of heaviness.

One obvious standout, ‘Sand’, comes loaded with a huge swaggering riff, hugely weighty but never totally leaden.  Imagine ‘Dirt’ era Alice In Chains with a huge Melvins-style echo on the drum kit and you’ll have some idea of where King Locust are coming from.  There aren’t any overtly catchy hooks to be had, but to be fair, the weight behind the riff is everything.  To begin with, ‘Mea Culpa’ hints at a lighter and fuzzier mood briefly, but beyond the intro, the riff takes on a slow and fairly uncompromising tone.  While this dominates most of the four minutes, the first verse offers a contrast with a more alternative approach, and an atmospheric vocal which sounds like a Dutch Travis Meeks.  No such luxury for the second verse, however, where King Locust favour another heavy riff to back up a dual vocal: one voice adopting a metallic growl, while the other indulges in unsettling shouting.  It’s hard not to be reminded – at least in passing – of alternative metallers Craw with their brand of Helmet meets Tool ugliness.

By the time the sledgehammer ‘Guesthouse’ hits its stride, it’s surprising how strong King Locust’s riffs are.  While the verses still have a grunge edge, any earlier Alice In Chains-isms seem safe in comparison.  Once again, looking beyond the grungier moments, the heavy end on the chorus showcases more of a Page Hamilton/Helmet approach, as the riffs take on more post-hardcore intensity.  The guitars cranked to eleven meshing with an unsubtle drum line and a shouted vocal of “smash my head against the wall” shows King Locust at their most intense and uncompromising best.  Bringing the first half of the album to a thunderous close, ‘So Lonely’ stokes up the bottom end yet again, and as such, all guitar work takes on a mantle which would challenge ‘Blues For The Red Sun’ era Kyuss. While that brings a certain stoner and doom-like pace, beyond that, King Locust are still firmly within the grunge camp as opposed to stoner rock.  This is cemented by slightly nasal vocals – given extra weight by a harmony voice – which, when combined, makes no secret of King Locust’s love of early Alice In Chains yet again.  Still, there’s precious little wrong with having such a seminal influence.

Just when you think you’ve heard all their tricks, by the midpoint, King Locust don a very different musical hat, for ‘Musk’ is very much a disc of two halves.  The second half brings a bunch of experimental – and often acoustic based – instrumentals which sound like the bastard offspring of the Alice In Chains ‘Unplugged’ album colliding Sonic Youth’s experimental collages.

It goes without saying that the first half of the disc comes with the broadest appeal with regard to everyday listening.  The second half is still enjoyable in its own right, since the downtuned acoustic guitars and percussive arrangements make for some interesting, alternative late night musical backdrops.  The semi-wandering nature of the eight untitled instrumentals provides an excellent contrast to the band’s noisiest tendencies.  While King Locust are a great “all out” heavy riffing outfit, there’s someone within the ranks pushing their musical boundaries, occasionally achieving results which are just as interesting in their own way.  The closing piece, in particular, makes an instantly good impression by combining a Led Zeppelin rooted riff with a downtuned edge, and then pitching that against a much cleaner rhythm.  It’s more direct than most of King Locust’s instrumental works, it must be said, but it purposely brings the disc a slightly more upbeat finish.

King Locust twists their love of Alice In Chains and other classic grunge-based influences into something a little darker than most of their predecessors on occasion, thanks to an equal love of a lot post-grunge metal-based acts.  The bottom line is – in terms of nineties revivalism, at least – ‘Musk’ is more than enjoyable enough…especially when cranked through a decent set of speakers.

This rather split personality disc is being offered on a “pay what you want” basis, which can be obtained from the widget below.

December 2011

THEM CROOKED VULTURES – Them Crooked Vultures

The idea of Josh Homme forming a supergroup with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, on paper at least, is a very exciting concept.  Imagine the energy of Grohl’s many previous works colliding with a wedge of Zeppelin fuelled goodness!  Surely that means that Them Crooked Vultures should have some big appeal?

And it does. …But only really to fans of Joshua Homme and particularly his band Queens of The Stone Age. Aside from an occasional obvious backing vocal from Dave Grohl and an occasional musical flourish (but seldom more) from Jones, a lot of Them Crooked Vultures’ material feels indistinguishable from Homme’s main band.

If viewed as the work of a supergroup, most of the album is unremarkable. Homme is clearly de facto band leader and most of the music takes his usual punchy but sludgy approach. Fine if you like Queens of the Stone Age, but of little interest to other people. ‘No One Loves Me & Neither Do I’ has a fantastic riff, but fails to back it up with a memorable hook. Lead single ‘New Fang’ has a decent drum groove, with stops on the what sounds like it ought to be a pre-chorus, but again there’s nothing too memorable about it. ‘Elephants’ is rather cumbersome and drags on far too long at nearly seven minutes (a common criticism of at least half of Homme’s work), despite a decent intro riff.

‘Scumbag Blues’, a Cream style power trio workout, is one of the only times that the potential behind Them Crooked Vultures can be seen. It’s also the first time Jones’s keyboard work makes an obvious appearance. Here, he occasionally breaks into some very welcome ‘Trampled Underfoot’ styled clavinet work. Although ‘Bandoliers’ features an old-style mellotron, it’s all but buried below the drums. Such a pity that Jones’s distinctive keyboard work (a la ‘No Quarter’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’) doesn’t have much place in Them Crooked Vultures. It could be argued that Jones’s keyboard is the key to ‘Interlude With Ludes’, but he’s not playing much of anything resembling a tune and the whole thing is a mess.

Since Jones would be a hero to both Homme and Grohl, it seems odd that his contributions to Them Crooked Vultures would be so underwhelming. He’s credited as playing bass, keyboards, keytar, piano, slide guitar and mandolin, but most of these get lost under Josh Homme’s trademark bluster. Aside from occasional keyboards, most of his clearly audible work is restricted to the bass. While his bass playing is solid, there are a number of Homme’s chums who could have filled the bass player’s spot as easily.

Some of the material here sounds solid, but little of it makes any lasting impact. Some good riffs for sure, but a repetitive sound and lack of hooks makes ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ a wasted opportunity, considering the musicians involved. Some of this material would’ve made a decent Queens of The Stone Age album, but if viewed as more than that, it’s one of the biggest musical disappointments of 2009.

January 2010