Savages, "Silence Yourself" (Matador) -- If the instructive title blows past you, the opening song reiterates the point: "Shut Up." The buzziest band at this year's SXSW -- and on the Pitchfork bill this summer -- Savages are a serious post-punk quartet, and it's worth hushing up in order to hear the intricacies at work amid all their carefully wrought guitar squall and gleefully bleak observations. Singer Jehnny Beth applies a quivering Grace Slick vibrato to her frequently tuneless, deeply earnest delivery, not unlike a more alarmed Morrissey or, given the song structures and the album's penchant for occasional odd urban noise, the Fall's Mark E. Smith. Songs massage as much fierce feedback ("Waiting for a Sign") as they do surprisingly supple melody ("She Will"), and producers Rodaidh McDonald and Johnny Hostile have masterfully manipulated it for grand effect whether one has quited down or not. A great rock album destined to top most rockist's best-o'-2013 list. (Wild Flag, we hardly knew ye.)
Natalie Maines, "Mother" (Columbia) -- Ending her self-imposed seven-year spiral of silence, following the backlash to her criticisms of President Bush, former Dixie Chicks leader Natalie Maines eases her way back into music with an album of covers. It's a frustratingly safe choice, but her song selections make their own statements -- particularly the title track, a dry but bold reading of Pink Floyd's Freudian opus from "The Wall." This album, produced by Ben Harper (whose band backed her in March at SXSW), is touted as a rock record. It ain't country, for sure, but her Texas lilt lubricates the otherwise stiff connective tissue of Dan Wilson's "Free Life" and the timid verses of Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over." Great to have her back, and "Mother" is pleasant enough. But I'd rather hear what she herself has to say.
Rod Stewart, "Time" (Capitol) -- Rod Stewart wrote a memoir (Rod: The Autobiography) and suddenly remembered that he used to kinda rock. So he made "Time," his first album in 15 years from his own songbook. Co-wrote, of course -- "Time" bills plenty of it, with six writers credited to the debut single, "She Makes Me Happy." The album sounds that crowded, with lots of thin ideas corn-starched into a thick, radio-ready gloss. But its unsurprising shamelessness isn't wholly unappealing, and tracks like the satiny "Sexual Religion" and the horn-driven groove of "Finest Woman" are also reminders that, yeah, Stewart used to kinda rock and, at age 68, still sorta can.
Plain White T's, "Should've Gone to Bed" EP (Hollywood) -- This new EP from Chicago's Plain White T's leads with the first pop single in this writer's memory to address a lover while making the act of going to bed one of solitary, sexless defeat. (Though that's probably how PWT guitarist Tim Lopez felt after NBC canceled the dating reality show he was on, "Ready for Love," before it finished.) But after a string of singles with great hooks ("Hey There Delilah," "1,2,3,4" "Rhythm of Love"), "Should've Gone to Bed" comes on like watered-down Maroon 5. Hoping the album, in the works now, is more ambitious.