4 Bands Who You Already Know Well Put Out Some Of Their Best Albums Yet - Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Portugal. The Man, Rancid
2023 has been a year of a LOT of exciting and great new music from bands of all genres, but it has also been a year where some of the biggest names in rock music have gotten back to form with some of their best albums to date.
So, while I love to highlight independent music as much as I possibly can, I am going to write an article reviewing 4 bands that you definitely should know by now, and how they are putting out some of the best albums and songs of their storied careers this year.
Queens of the Stone Age - In Times New Roman… - 4.9 out of 5 stars
The newest album from QOTSA is their 8th studio album, and I honestly don’t know how these guys keep doing it, but this might literally be their best overall album yet. I know, you are going to think I sound like an idiot for saying it, but it is insanely good.
From the experimentation in soundscapes that are layered all over the place to the signature anti-melodies that Josh Homme seems to belt out so seamlessly, this is peak form for the band, and I honestly don’t think there is anything even close to a bad song on this album.
I really like all the songs as if they are all some of the best songs QOTSA has ever released, because I actually think they are.
The “stoner rock” genre that they claim to fit into is so hard to describe in words, but in a nutshell, bands like Queens of the Stone Age have free reign to create weird sounds, play dark tones, and make longer songs as needed to just match the lyrics and theme of the song to the music, and boy howdy, this is a perfect example of that concept.
You get sounds on this album from artists that span anywhere from David Bowie to Primus, and get restructured and wrangled into the style that only Queens of the Stone Age can pull off. I don’t think there is another band like these guys on the planet, and that’s why it is so cool when they pull off an album like this.
“Obscenery” is a perfect example of my attempt at a description, and it kicks the album off, but seriously, don’t just stop there. Listen to this whole badass album.
Recommended Songs - “Negative Space”, “Caranvoyeur”, “What The Peephole Say”
Foo Fighters - But Here We Are - 4.8 out of 5 stars
Foo Fighters have been a staple of American rock and roll since the late 90’s, and even though the lineup of the band has had some changes over the years, the band has had 3 constant members since 1997 in Nate Mendel on bass, Dave Grohl on guitar and vocals, and Taylor Hawkins on drums.
You would have to be living under a damn rock in a cave on the Sea of Tranquility to not know that this lineup was shattered when Hawkins unexpectedly passed away last year throwing everything about the future of Foo Fighters into doubt.
Rising from the knockdown of losing their brother, Foo Fighters have put out not just one of their sonically best albums, but it’s probably the most meaningful album since 1997’s The Colour and The Shape, in my opinion.
I think almost all the songs have some underlying reference to Hawkins’ passing even if it is not directly stated or the theme of the song may not seem to be a song about the death of a friend.
The band reacts and performs in the best way they know how - to put out blazingly loud rock and roll songs that kick you right in the ass and make you sing along with all of your voice and soul.
And what’s a better way to honor their friend and family than to get back up, dust themselves off, and create a brilliant album with him in mind on every track?
The album has the incredibly talented Josh Freese (Vandals, Devo, basically every damn band on Earth at this point) on drums, and wow is he a great fit!
Freese doesn’t try to take over any of the sound in any particular song, but he does have some moments and flashes that you just have to accept that he is a drummer that teeters on being constrained by the mortal realm. He definitely accepts the role of the band though, and he helps to bring back an energy and sound that I don’t think has really been fully felt in this band since their dual album In Your Honor (2005) which had creativity AND loud ass rock songs to bring a fresh take on the band’s sound.
That’s what I feel on this new album. Energy renewed and fresh sounds layered into the same great flavor of rock that Foo Fighters fans have been chewing on for the last almost 30 years now.
I still have one question though, “How the hell does Dave Grohl keep his voice sounding absolutely perfect for this long?”
Oh, and something that you don’t normally get on a Foo Fighters album – a 10-minute song – comes on “The Teacher” which is a powerful tribute that is transitioned into “Rest” which is a perfect way to end the album with a beautifully written note to Hawkins set to a minimalistic music backdrop for much of the song that crescendos into streams of guitars weeping out notes.
Recommended Songs - “But Here We Are”, “The Glass”, “Under You”, “Rest”
Portugal. The Man - Chris Black Changed My Life - 4.8 out of 5 stars
Another band touched by loss of a close and dear friend to their group this past few years is Portugal. The Man after having lost their hype man and onstage M.C., Chris Black in 2019 who had been with the band for a while as a touring member to make their live show a bit more interactive and to help alleviate some of the spotlight away from lead singer John Gourley who has spent years trying to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible and letting the rest of the band be highlighted.
Now, as far as this album goes, it has genre blends all over the place, and it is a savvy new-age alternative sound that definitely pushes the sound they have been moving towards over the past 3 albums (starting with Evil Friends in 2013).
I think the two big differences between this album and their last album Woodstock is that firstly, this sound isn’t as shockingly different from the previous album as Woodstock was (for better or worse for fans of the band), and this one, while probably not having those massive hit singles like “Feel It Stll”, “So Young” and “Live in the Moment” the band has put together a more experimental sound built on the rock sounds that they became known for in the first place and simply LAYERED the other genres on top of that sound, in my opinion, as opposed to started with a more hip-hop sound and reverse-engineering it to the rock spectrum as some of the songs on the last album seemed to do.
I really like this album, and for the fans who haven’t heard any of the albums before Evil Friends, this will feel like a great album that is a lot closer to that album with songs like “Dummy” and “Ghost Town” that are almost a perfect fit for their sound 10 years ago.
For those fans who have been around since before the band even signed a major record deal and pumped out like 8 albums in like 5 years, I will say there are some touches of Censored Colors (a personal favorite) on this album with the intro song “Heavy Games II” and “Time’s A Fantasy” which both feature Jeff Bhasker on piano.
So, don’t just sulk around and think that “I liked this band before anyone ever heard of them, and before they did Taco Bell commercials.”
Portugal. The Man still makes great music, and you need to stop living in the past!
Recommended Songs - “Dummy”, “Ghost Town”, “Time’s A Fantasy”, “Plastic Island”
Rancid - Tomorrow Never Comes - 4.7 out of 5 stars
One of my favorite things about Green Day becoming a punk rock crossover success was that Rancid got their time to shine off the mainstream success of the punk rock heyday of the 90’s.
I have been a fan since I first heard the songs “Hyena” and “I Wanna Riot” on the Punk-O-Rama compilation back in 1994, which means I am not only old as hell, but that I have been a fan of Rancid for almost 30 full years. Unbelievable.
This new album is absolutely one of my favorites as well. It reminds me of the quintessential sound that Rancid established back in the 90’s and has kept pumping out, but the best part about this album is that I feel they have finally found a way (especially on the title track) to incorporate all 3 singers (Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen and Matt Freeman) on the same songs even better than past albums where they usually had to take different verses or simply give one person the whole song.
This album also taps into influences from their friends Dropkick Murphys on “Devil In Disguise” and “New American.” Not to say that Rancid is borrowing their sound or anything or that these songs are not like past songs, but I will say I think their last tour with DM on the “Berkeley to Boston Tour” may have had some effect on those two songs in particular…if they wrote them before that tour, then I am wrong, but the sounds are too similar to be coincidence.
That aside, the band pulls out their roots, brings up the history of their home in the East Bay/San Francisco area, and they blaze through 16 songs in under 30 minutes which is fast.
But, in spite of all the things that feel familiar, the album absolutely feels new. It feels more like it is their first new album in 20 years rather than their first album in 6 years.
This is a great new direction and, if I could compare this to ANY other Rancid album, it would actually be their first self-titled album with songs like “Rats In The Hallway” and the aforementioned “Hyena.”
Tomorrow Never Comes feels as youthful as any new punk album I have heard in the past couple of years that isn’t dragged down by trying to be a pop-punk trend.
Recommended Songs - “Drop Dead Inn”, “Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Devil In Disguise”, “The Bloody & Violent History”