Saturday, August 14, 2010

Story in Progress: Section One

This is the first section of a story I started writing a few weeks ago. At some point I'd like to develop it into something longer, but this is what I have so far. Let me know what you think.

He woke with a jolt in a dry darkness. The air left his lungs in a gasp, as if he had been hit in the gut. He looked around in the close black with the momentary panic of someone waking in a new place for the first time. After a moment, he flexed his hands weakly, rousing them from stiffness and slowly forcing them back to life. He was calmer now; he still could not see, but he remembered why. His breath heated the cold metal before his face, and sweat began to drip from his nose. It was time; he had to get out.

Stretching his arms slowly outward, he pushed on the familiar ridged surface before his waist until he heard a click. His hands now free, he quickly wiped his face before unbuckling the straps around his chest and legs. Heat returned quickly; his breath was again quick and labored, and every movement ached. With a desperate motion, the man pushed on the warm steel behind him, leaning his body into the curved wall that faced him. A click sounded, but he did not move. A faint whimper escaped his lips. Frustration took over as his lungs filled with warm, spent air. A last twitch of energy pulled his head back and jerked it forward, into the dark barrier. This time the click was louder, and he felt the door give. With a high squeak, it fell forward and down, and Jacob Clarke tumbled into the light.

He lay still for a moment, closing his eyes against the blinding sunlight. Forcing himself onto his back, Clarke lifted a hand to cover his eyes before opening them. Tears streamed down his face as his tender retinas perceived the light of what he realized was merely the dim glow of a sunset. He had been lucky - the light of a midday sun could have blinded him permanently. His childlike eyes eventually stopped watering, and Clarke weakly smiled in the joy of his sight, after twelve years of darkness.

Gathering himself, Clarke examined his surroundings. The black shell that had held him was now a heap of bent steel. He hurriedly crawled back to the pile and began to search, pushing aside chunks of shell that were already collapsing into dark dust. After a moment he pulled a small leather parcel from the heap, which he opened in delight. Inside he found a package of semi-frozen meat product and a small bottle of distilled water. He breathed on the food package excitedly before wolfing down half of its contents, chasing the tasteless mixture with two gulps of water.

His strength somewhat renewed, Clarke finally stood. A cursory scan told him that he was in a coniferous forest, fairly dense but open enough to allow travel. The ground where he stood was mostly flat and was mostly covered by needles, some bright blue, some a deep, rusty red. Behind him stood a small foothill that lead to a mountain, stretching to perhaps fifteen thousand feet at the summit. He saw no clear path out of the area, but knew he must move soon.

A sudden breeze blew over Clarke, and he shivered under the sweat of exhaustion. A poignant scent entered his nostrils, like old eggs and car exhaust. Clarke’s eyes blurred momentarily, and as he gazed at the ground beneath his feet, the deep red of the dry grass forced sharp realization into his mind. His breath stopped short, caught by the sudden knowledge that every breath was toxic. Panicked, Clarke stumbled to the remains of the black shelter, throwing the remaining pieces aside as his lungs clinched tighter in terrible immediacy. His last ounce of strength heaved away a small segment of steel that covered the floorpiece of the shell, revealing a small silver package lined with tiny blue capsules. His strength almost gone, Clarke ripped the aluminum package and choked down two of the pills before his vision faded once more to black.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (Deluxe Reissue)

Some artists have a unique talent for attitude, an intrinsic charisma that often is both natural and ludicrous. Elvis gave it a name. The Rolling Stones gave it a dark sexuality. In the modern era, this attitude is embodied in Queens of the Stone Age, the eclectic modern rock act spawned from the ashes of desert metal gods Kyuss. Fronted by ex-members Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, Queens have managed to isolate the most focused aspects of their former band while introducing a sense of humor that was seriously lacking with Kyuss. Queens, the result of this experiment in facecrushing rock, have managed to create something original and consistently excellent in a career that saw a musical high point in 2000's "Rated R."

The most immediately noticeable trait of "Rated R" is its incredible ability to party. The opener, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," consists entirely of Homme singing a laundry list of narcotics over a dense mix of power chords and chest-thumping bass. "Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol.....c-c-c-c-c-cocaaiiine!!!" says Homme. Ok, so on the subtlety scale, this one earns about a negative pile of turds. But then, Queens have never been about subtlety, preferring instead to slap you in the face while shouting vague innuendos in your ear. This tactic is surprisingly effective, and chances are it won't bother most listeners.

But Homme doesn't really seem content with stating the obvious. The following standout track, "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," finds him in total command of his own mystery, daring the listener, "Leap of faith, do you doubt?/ Cut you in, I just cut you out." The deceptive sweetness of the chimes that echo throughout the song only serves to shock when Homme's distorted guitar roars into the chorus under his oddly charming falsetto. The album is filled with brilliant moments like this; the hand-drum intro of "Better Living Through Chemistry" and the Nick Oliveri's terrifying howl in "Tension Head" are two more examples. The former is dominated by the creep of Oliveri's twisting, sliding bassline, which stands out as one of the album's best musical statements and its most unshakable earworm. Likewise, "Tension Head" rides a vicious guitar riff from Homme into Oliveri's animalistic shriek, extolling the virtues and vices of the hard-partying lifestyle for which the bassist was later fired from the band. It's this interplay between Homme and Oliveri that makes "Rated R" so successful as a whole. Homme provides a laid-back, intriguing charm that is both tempered and enhanced by the downright sleaze of Oliveri's vocal chaos.

Though Queens has continued to rock after Oliveri's departure, their raw edge has been a little tempered in later releases. Fortunately, this year's reissue of "Rated R" contains an extra helping of the Queens in their absolute prime. Five unreleased tracks have been included, highlighted by the Carly Simon parody "You're So Vague" and the pounding thrash of "Born to Hula." Even better are the ten live tracks included on the album's second disc, mostly derived from the band's performance at the 2000 Reading Festival. The set contains a few of the album's best, executed in a searing fashion that should make any fan desperately crave for some tour dates. Closing out the live material is a rendition of "Millionaire," a song from on of Homme's side projects that would be recorded for the next Queens album. It stands as arguably their best song, and it's fascinating to hear it live before it was recorded in 2002. Less facemelting but equally amusing are Homme's antics throughout the set, during which he tells the crowd several times, "This is a song for you!"

Overall, "Rated R" deserves the deluxe treatment, and it is well served by the chosen bonus material. Submit yourself to "Rated R"'s distorted heat, and you'll be dazzled by its desert thunder. By the end, you undoubtedly will find yourself echoing Oliveri and Homme in the set's closer with an eager, if less throat-shredding cry: "This one's down.../Give me some more!"