California Sounds: Queens of the Stone Age, Chelsea Wolfe, Dream Syndicate and Shannon Lay

California Sounds: Queens of the Stone Age, Chelsea Wolfe, Dream Syndicate and Shannon Lay
Chelsea Wolfe (Sargent House)

Computers and keyboards may be running the city's commercial pop music industry, but you still can't toss a Telecaster in this town without hitting a guitarist.

Below, a few new six-string driven songs that complicate a recent story on the death of the guitar, one of which stars a cat named Blood, and that sound great while rolling down Sunset with the stereo blasting. (Better yet, take Fountain.)


Chelsea Wolfe, "16 Psyche" (Sargent House). Singer, songwriter and magnetic live performer Wolfe runs dark and heavy on the first song from her forthcoming album, "Hiss Spun" (Sept. 22). The artist — who was raised in Sacramento, relocated to Los Angeles in her 20s and now lives in the high desert — draws on Black Sabbath's down-tuned heavy metal chords without sounding the least bit subservient to the overlords.

Wolfe has a fascinating discography. Her minimal recordings from the early '10s featured crawling, distorted guitars and echoed drama, and over the years she's explored synthetic textures and orchestral arrangements without ditching any of her menace as a vocalist.

Although it's about the length and width of your average pop song, "16 Psyche" weighs a ton, thick with loud guitars, drums that echo as if inside a vast cavern and a musical bridge that seems to burrow into the Earth's core and back.

Queens of the Stone Age, "The Way You Used to Do" (Matador). For their new album, the long-running California band didn't hire a legendary rock producer like Robert "Mutt" Lange or Tony Visconti to add more hardened grit.

Rather, as is often founder Josh Homme's wont, they did the opposite, in this instance by hooking up with pop producer Mark Ronson, who's responsible for commercial hits by Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, as well as his own collaboration with Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk."

Purist rock dudes might be inclined to think that Homme's riffs would squish posh Brit producer Ronson like a bug, but on "The Way You Used to Do," Ronson puts up a good fight.

Featuring a boogie rock guitar line that seems ripped from 1970s arena-busters Foghat and Black Oak Arkansas, on "The Way You Used to Do" the band manages in just over four minutes to inject new life into the so-called country funk movement of decades past.

It's an admirable, gutsy turn into new terrain. Plus, like Foghat's "Slow Ride" and Black Oak Arkansas' "Hot & Nasty," Queens' new groover is, according to Homme, about sex. But it's a complicated situation. In addition to being a rock star, Homme and his wife, Brody Dalle (former leader of the Distillers), are the parents of three young children.

When Homme delivers lines in the song about first meeting her — "Jump like an arsonist to a perfect match/ Burned alive" — he seems not to be singing about a groupie or a one-night stand but his future life partner.

"Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?/ Fine with either," Homme wonders, before giving a shout-out to his kids: "Gave birth to monsters who will terrorize normalcy/Yeah, they'll terrorize."

Shannon Lay, "All This Life Going Down" (Do Not Disturb). The new video for the erstwhile Feels' singer and guitarist sees her strumming her Fender while perched atop a black cat named Blood. The cat's half asleep and likely purring. The musician is offering a spiraling guitar melody.

The song itself, like the cat, doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry, nor does Lay seem anxious. Rather, she's sitting and singing about resting and finding comfort within fears, no big deal, living in the moment and reveling in "all this life going down."

Nor does the song have a hook or rage with hissing energy. But, like an image of a musician playing music atop a cat, it's a lovely thing to contemplate.


The Dream Syndicate, "How Did I Find Myself Here" (Anti Records). The first new Dream Syndicate song since the Reagan administration is a labyrinthine meditation that, at over 11 minutes, is also among their longest.

As with the band's early jams "Halloween" and "The Days of Wine and Roses," singer-founder Steve Wynn is in no hurry to step to the microphone, content to reintroduce the band through an extended instrumental opening that spans 3½ minutes.

When Wynn finally interrupts the guitars, bass and drums, it's as if appearing from behind a velvet curtain. "A prodigal son/ Who could not go on/ How did I find myself here?" Wynn sings, his Lou-Reedian tone weaving through the bars. "Open wide/ And swallow the time/ How did I find myself here?"

In literal terms, Wynn has found himself here because he reformed the Dream Syndicate in 2012 after decades spent making solo records and playing with bands including Gutterball and the Baseball Project.

The song is the first release from the band's forthcoming album, "How Did I Find Myself Here," and arrives through the Dream Syndicate's arrangement with L.A. based Anti Records.

Due on Sept. 8, the album finds Wynn reuniting with original drummer Dennis Duck, longtime Dream Syndicate bassist Mark Walton and guitarist Jason Victor.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: