After the ambitious sprawl of Lullabies to Paralyze, Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age make a conscious attempt to pare down the freaky metal band-cum-psychedelic slumber-party's excesses. From the opening drum thwaps of "Turning On the Screw" -- Joey Castillo's kit sounds like plastic buckets and garbage cans -- Homme has taken a sandblaster to the whole QOSTA sound. Guitars are tweaked beyond fuzz, solos skitter like sand crabs. That doesn't mean that they've lost their flair for imaginative arrangements: "Into the Hollow" features tinkling guitar harmonics and handclaps that offset Homme's ever-ascending falsetto vocals and Troy van Leeuwen's slide guitar. Likewise, the remake of "Make It Wit Chu" (featured on The Desert Sessions Vols. 9 & 10) with its piano and faux-soul harmonies (from a subdued Mark Lanegan) offers a rich counterpoint to the acerbic stomp of "Battery Acid" and the cock-rocking poker ode "3s and 7s." The prevailing mood of Era Vulgaris, with its fuzzed out bass blurts and trashcan cymbals, is a scabrous, low-slung twitching, but upon further exposure, the beauty and wit of Homme's vision comes into view. The jazzy smoke of "Suture Up Your Future" and the mesmerizing California-rock vibe of "Into the Hollow" reveal the astute student of pop music behind Homme's acid-casualty pose. And for those keeping score of QOTSA's legion of guest stars and temporary band members, that's the Strokes' Julian Casablancas taking a nearly unrecognizable vocal turn on "Sick, Sick, Sick." It's just one of the rewards to repeated listening that this Era affords.