Austin rockers Ume craft masterful sophomore album

Expectations can be painful. Some albums build them to stratospheric heights, only to crush them in glossy production or selling out. Ume’s “Monuments” is not one of those albums.

Kicking off with hard-hitting lead single “Black Stone,” the Austin-based rock band immediately showcases a different beast than the romantic fuzz-rock of “Phantoms.” Featuring heavy guitar riffing, thundering drums and atmospheric vocals from front-woman Lauren Larson, “Black Stone” sounds like a child born out of a Dave Grohl and My Bloody Valentine collaboration.

From there on Ume continues to expand its palette, from the poppy guitars of “Embrace” to the wondrous beauty of “Until the End.”

“Until the End,” while led by a pop-style chord progression, is layered with effects and noise, which turn it into a blend of Radiohead experimentalism and Modest Mouse style of accessibility, making it into one hell of a song.

And it all sounds so effortless. Ume pounds through fast paced rock songs, acoustic ballads and layered guitar-based build-ups with ease. Larson’s schizophrenic guitar lines, layered with fuzz, reverb and delay weave their way over the tight rhythmic section with confidence.

And with no songs over four minutes in length, it may seem that the album might lack contrast between songs, but Ume manages to make the most out of the time that they have.

For example, “Oh Fate,” an epic song that builds on the dynamics between the guitar and bass, covers a lot of ground in the short three-and-a-half minutes it’s given.

The closing two tracks, “Within My Bones” and “Reason” end the record on a more emotional note. “Within My Bones” is an acoustic ballad where Larson speaks to a lost love. Lyrics like “I’d rather not know how much you loved me before you let go” set the stage for the power-ballad closing track.

Ume has crafted a masterpiece of an album, both evolving and improving on their original sound. The mistakes from their debut have all been erased on “Monuments,” creating a dynamic rock album that blends the best parts of alternative rock into one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

-Day Gudmundsson