January may seem a bit early to declare the best record of 2009, but I am prepared to set caution aside and predict that this time next year UME will be topping best-of lists. The band’s new EP, Sunshower is at once beautiful, brutal, flawlessly executed, and completely unpretentious. It’s the type of record that grabs the listener immediately and demands repeated listens. It’s the whole package – as close to a perfect rock record as has come out of Austin (or anywhere for the matter) in quite some time. Like all great bands, UME’s sound is impossible to nail down in simple terms. They are shredding guitars and vocals that shift from beautiful whispers to raspy growls. They merge the anthemic and with the intimate — sometimes delicate and sometimes explosive.
Vocalist Lauren Lagner Larson is a petite blonde and bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon – but the SY similarities really do end there. UME is far more melodic than Sonic Youth (they even make their walls of noisy guitars sound pleasing to the ear somehow) and while Sonic Youth is sometimes too weird for mass consumption, UME’s music is so instantly likeable that it will not alienate any listeners. The band runs contrary to a lot of modern musical trends, and is in many ways a throwback to the 1990s, without ever sounding derivative. Where increasing instrumentation (synths, auxiliary percussion, and so on) are becoming the norm, UME is stripped down by comparison, making a mountain of sound as just a three piece – guitar, bass, and drums. It is a formula so simple and timeless, and yet somehow original.
UME wastes no time – the EP’s post-punk opening track, “East of Hercules”, erupts out of the speakers with blasts of loud guitars and a frantic momentum (laid down by the band’s stellar rhythm section, bassist Eric Larson and drummer Jeff Barrera). Lauren Lagner Larson’s vocal delivery is beautiful and aggressive, her playful phrasing twists in and out of the song’s rhythm. “Sunshower” is a slower track, that builds to an enormous chorus. The quiet-loud dynamic and the interplay between the guitar and bass sounds faintly reminiscent of Trail of Dead’s Madonna album. “Conductor” is the record’s strongest song. It is three minutes of insane energy, pounding toms, and guitar shredding that slides into a dreamy chorus and then into a wall of raging cymbals and guitar noise. The melody is so catchy and irresistible that it will stick with you long after listening. This aggressive, pop-rock anthem demonstrates what UME sounds like at the top of their game. The record’s closer, “Pendulum”, is another highlight with just as much energy and melody as everything else on Sunshower. Frenchie Smith’s production really helps this song sparkle, bringing out both the delicate beauty of the verses and the massive guitar-rock choruses.
The only complaint I have about this EP is that it is too short. I am anxious to see exactly how UME’s passion, energy and authenticity will translate on a longer release. Only time will tell. But either way, Sunshower is an important record for UME. It is the point at which they went from being one of Austin’s biggest potentials, to being one of Austin’s best bands.