Bambi Lee Savage
(Bambi Lee Savage Music)
Bambi Lee Savage has an interesting musical pedigree—as a recording engineer, she has credits with the likes of Nick Cave and U2. As a musician, she’s been championed by, among others, Bono. Her supporters have good reason: Savage delivers an intriguing, highly personal kind of pop. It’s dark and brooding, and her singing feels by turns coy and achy, relying on whispery delivery much of the time. Of equal interest is Savage’s use of guitar—she wields a twangy, roaring sensibility that fills her tunes with well-considered, often quirky six-string parts. All of that is the good news. The bad is that the album consists of a few impressive standouts (the weird blast of “Nearly Gone” takes top honors) accompanied by a host of songs that set moods, but don’t quite lift off. The worst among them borrows heavily from Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” without possessing that song’s stout melodic framework. As a dark mood evoker, however, this one still works well.
Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend’s third album is their most musically diverse, playing to their strengths with tightly wound grooves and buoyant choruses while expanding their palette to include plaintive acoustic ballads, spoken word interludes, pitch-shifted vocals, and dancehall-inflected beats. Perhaps the most surprising development is the lyrical preoccupation with mortality and religion. It’s reflected in the keening church organ of “Don’t Lie” and the booming chorus of “Worship You” which could be easily reappropriated by some liberal church. Skeptical tunes like “Unbelievers” and “Everlasting Arms” take a different tack, mixing propulsive strings and skittering guitars into anthemic concoctions. The Yahweh baiting “Ya Hey” combines hip-hop breaks, chopped-up samples, and a surging backup choir. The real achievement is how the band creates compelling songs from sprawling materials and potentially ponderous subjects, making difficult material feel downright addictive.
Queens of the Stone Age
Not since Tool’s 2001 release of Lateralus has a rock album been so anticipated as QOTSA’s Like Clockwork. Primary singer/songwriter Josh Homme further hones his already cool, atypical sense of melody—often reaching Bowie-level territory—and continues to surround himself with beefy rhythm sections that include (on various tracks) drummers Dave Grohl, Joey Castillo and Jon Theodore (The Mars Volta), and bassist “Mikey Shoes” Shuman. The material is diverse but flows with continuity, and lyrical content remains confidently freakish. Guest stars abound, with vocal appearances by Trent Reznor, Elton John, Alex Truner (Arctic Monkeys), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Brody Dalle (The Distillers) and Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters). Interspersed sound effects walk you from song to song through a steampunk-flavored, Jean-Pierre Jeunet-style aural environment. Favorite track: “Smooth Sailing.”