In an era when either subtlety or absurdity rules many genres, it’s often hard to find a 1990s-style rock epic. Luckily, Garbage and Wolf Alice have answered the call with two distinct approaches. Since Shirley Manson reunited Garbage five years ago, she’s tried to drop the band’s cool disdain in favor of mysticism. Now, in No Gods No Masters (Infectious/BMG), she’s traded in the heavy eyeliner for a stark approach, belting out observations on the hazards of spirituality that might seem trite as a topic but always offer great lyrical turns. In typical ’90s style, there are bonus editions in CD and LP formats that offer wonderful covers of “Starman” and “Because the Night,” as well as a cameo appearance by X founders John Doe and Exene Cervenka.
Wolf Alice has aimed for eclectic mixes of guitar and the ethereal voice of Ellie Roswell, but in Blue Weekend (Dirty Hit/RCA) transcendence predominates. Even tracks that begin softly build to harmonic overdubs that feel like The Joy Formidable fronting a church choir. Yes, Roswell tries the hip-hop beat in “Smile” and Go-Gos pop energy in “Play the Greatest Hits,” but the third Wolf Alice album is really all about lush majesty. Both releases may be the kind of potlatch that leaves one overstuffed, but there’s nothing wrong with a little substance.
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James DiGirolamo, Paper Boats (s-r) – DiGirolamo, a Nashville session musician for the likes of Alice Peacock, has crafted six warm pop tunes that easily fit into what has become known as the great yacht-rock revival. But tracks like “Same Boat” remind us that, like modern vocalists such as Hala, DiGirolamo offers up tracks that are more sophisticated than the first generation of yacht-rock tunes, even if one of his tracks is titled “Sail Away.”
Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones, Here to Tell the Tale (Sower Records) – Every time a rockabilly revivalist wants to bring back the energy and novelty of The Stray Cats, they seem to run out of gas after a few jump-jive numbers. Not so Lara Hope. With each successive album, the upstate New York vocalist ratchets up the energy, and tracks on her third album like “Some Advice” and “Stop, Drop & Roll” are boogie classics — and her band is just as full of visual novelty in live videos.