Hard rock usually aims for the gut rather than the upper-level brain functions, which is one reason why one doesn't hear much about the subgenre of "hard rock for smart people." But that's not to say such things don't exist, and Monuments, the third album from Ume (pronounced "Ooo-May"), sounds very clever indeed, in terms of its music as well as its lyrics, while still generating plenty of fire and sweat. Ume leader Lauren Langner Larson clearly knows how to craft a big slab of riffage, and her guitar work is straightforward but strong, focusing on downstrokes rather than rapid-fire soloing and letting the meaty chords build the foundation while overdubbed secondary lines add texture and detail and keyboards add melodic counterpoints. While the melodies on Monuments often seem simple at first glance, Langner Larson's execution confirms she knows how to put enough twists in the tale to keep them compelling, and it helps that she has a rhythm section -- bassist Eric Larson and drummer Rachel Fuhrer -- who also understand how to say their peace loud and clear without cluttering up the songs. And if Langner Larson's lyrics lean to the oblique side, they're impressionistic enough to convey a vivid mood even when they don't scan in terms of a literal narrative. And for all the smarts on display, Monuments delivers plenty of rock action when the band winds up on "Until the End," "Embrace," and "Chase It Down," while quieter, moodier numbers like "Barophobia" and "Within My Bones" offer more proof of the strength of Langner Larson's melodies and her gifts as a vocalist. Producer Adam Kasper (who also produced fellow smart hard rockers Queens of the Stone Age) gives these performances a cool, polished, but powerful tone, and the result is an album that gets the mind/body balance just right, and shows Ume are paying off on the potential of their earlier work.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming