Despite the wandering range in quality, the Desert Sessions project has always been a lot of fun. It’s sincere music created in the moment by a bunch of talented artists. Returning from an absence of 16 (!!!) years, I’m pleased to report nothing has really changed on that front. In fact, Volumes 11 & 12 may just be the most entertaining release yet. The likes of Mike Kerr (Royal Blood), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) and even Matt Berry (Matt Berry) are involved this time round, and it sounds like they all had a pretty wild time writing and recording the material.
Founder and general mastermind Joshua Homme clearly had a blast on production duties too: “Noses in Roses, Forever” is a real journey on that front, with different elements dipping in and out of the stereo field in a foolhardy sort of way, set much to the tone of the records artwork. The whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek. See also: “Chic Tweetz”.
My biggest criticism of Volumes 11 & 12 is that it feels somewhat unfinished. Again, this has been a common trait of Desert Sessions ever since its inception in the late ’90s. “Something You Can’t See” is a genuinely beautiful rock song, and I think a few of the other cuts would have benefitted enormously from the same level of songwriting. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with “Crucifire”, but it reeks of a B-side.
All this said, there are few albums I’ve enjoyed more this year than this latest release from Desert Sessions. It provides a quick thrill, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’d love to see what such a talented group of musicians could do with more time and endeavour.
7 out of 10
You’ve heard of the Harlem Globetrotters, right? They’re good fun aren’t they? Colourful, entertaining, cheerful… all sorts of good stuff. There’s also nothing at stake in their matches. Vols. 11 & 12 is like that. It’s an exhibition match. Josh Homme and an ensemble of fine friends have had a lark, recorded it, and released it for all of us to enjoy. That’s the deal, and that’s what you get.
Those expecting lighting in a bottle will be disappointed. There are good moments to be sure. The funfair absurdity of “Chic Tweetz” — featuring Matt Berry of all people — is a charming novelty which would only work on a project like this. If you can’t do it with Desert Sessions when can you? Meanwhile, “Something You Can’t See” is comfortably the best ‘serious’ song. Its guitar work shimmers and Homme’s vocals ride the wind. In fact, it’s so lovely that it throws into focus how middling a lot of the album really is.
“Noses in Roses, Forever” sounds like a …Like Clockwork B-side, while “Far East for the Trees” brushes on classic California psychedelia without quite feeling like it belongs. The production somehow manages to feel too polished. It belies the album’s messy premise. If Vols. 11 & 12 owned how loose it really is I think it would come across a lot better.
6 out of 10
Desert Sessions have always been, by nature, a bit of a mishmash of styles and ideas — contributions and collaborations from a long list of excellent artists that Josh Homme has corralled into the mix. Maybe it was this knowledge entering these latest volumes that had me ready for a pick’n’mix of rock music which, ultimately, has made for one of my most enjoyable releases of the year.
This latest entry certainly has the twists and turns of pace. Moody opener, “Move Together” and follow up, “Noses in Roses, Forever”, feel like straight-lined Josh Homme tracks, but from there, things aren’t so clean cut. “Far East For the Trees” and “If You Run” feel apt here, really evoking the wild, vast desert country. From there, cohesion takes a back seat, as Matt Berry jumps into a comedic jaunt alongside a euro-disguised Homme in “Chic Tweetz”, before sliding into hazy, twinkling “Something You Can’t See” and then making an about-turn to a far straighter downtempo closer.
The whole affair ends fairly abruptly, leaving me wanting more and feeling as though things were in full swing. Having been thrown from mood to mood for half an hour, it’d very hard to defend this as a complete, focussed release. It certainly wears its collaborative nature on its sleeve. On the other hand, I’ve had far more fun with these new volumes than I’ve had with most of what 2019 has had to offer. The variety works in its favour in providing a tracklist of highlights and a lot of the contributions have worked exceptionally well here.
I’ll be returning for sure, but Vols. 11 & 12 leaves me wanting a bit too much more to be brilliant. Hovering at half an hour, I would’ve lapped up more, and with a tad more cohesion this tracklist would be a stellar lineup. Nevertheless, among a sea of average or below this year, the Desert Sessions easily stand out from the crowd.
8 out of 10