Every year, a ragtag caravan of musicians speeds through the California wasteland, kicking up a cloud of sand as it heads toward its remote, mystical destination. Burning Man? Nah. They're going to Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, where Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme presides over his Desert Sessions
: an ever-mutating collective that assembles to write and record a batch of songs over a week or so. Last February's gathering, which forms the basis of Volumes 9 & 10
, drew the likes of Polly Jean Harvey, Dean Ween, Twiggy Ramirez (ex-Marilyn Manson), longtime participant Alain Johannes (Eleven), and stoner-rock luminary Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), among many others.
The result is spectacular. Opener "Dead in Love" lays the sludgy riffage on thick before giving way to a trippy, Floydian coda; "Covered in Punks Blood" sounds like Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden mixed with jungle beats; and "Subcutaneous Phat" rides a down 'n' dirty soul-funk groove. But it's Harvey who really steals the show, providing vocals on half the tracks and lending her sax, piano, and bass skills as well. The smoldering "There Will Never Be a Better Time," which pairs her reverbed wail with Goss's urgent acoustic strumming, is absolutely spine-tingling, while the surfy rocker "Crawl Home" might be one of her best tunes.