Lady Lamb provides an out-of-body experience
There’s a bit of advice going around musicians’ circles lately that runs this way: Be a good person first, act like a professional, and it will be a hell of a lot easier having yourself a bit of a music career. Don’t act like a “rock star.”
But then you run across a sentence like this: “No one in the industry cares about how good your music is. They care about how successful you have become on your own.”
That’s a variation of the whole argument that talent is worthless without work ethic, and I generally agree with it, as long as we also all agree that hard work will only take you so far if your voice isn’t quite compelling or your songs are forgettable or, no matter how much technical skill you possess on your instruments, you have bad taste.
Because the opposite of those things is Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s Aly Spaltro, and she didn’t have Rolling Stone exclusively release the stream of her album because she’s a hard worker with a good PR person. Rolling Stone did that because her new album is fucking awesome. Absolutely fucking awesome.
I’m going to spend a bunch of words trying to describe why I think that is, but it’s not really a logical thing, awesomeness. It’s a primal reaction. Sub-cerebral.
And it’s this theme of the mind’s relation to the body, the soul’s relation to the bag of skin that holds it in, that is at the heart of Lady Lamb’s After. Quite literally the “Vena Cava,” which leads the album.
The guitar tone, thanks to her continuing collaboration with producer Nadim Issa, is just as warm as her first proper full-length, Riplely Pine, that’s for sure, grimy and rough without being amateurish. And Spaltro throws back to that record by declaring “there ain’t no aubergine in my blood” when the chorus ramps up into a rock tune, as is her wont.
But “how strange we all are/ Animal hearts/ Pumping animal blood.” Like the way Moby morphed those delta blues tunes into futuristic anthems, so does Spaltrow create the most ancient of contemporary rock pop in “Spat Out Spit,” a piece as aggressive as its title and welcoming as a cradle. The open is table-setting, a scene so mundane that Spaltrow peels an orange in idleness, but the drums are a clacking off-beat, a jazzy hip-hop, and it’s no surprise when the chorus is huge and demanding: “Have I been asleep this whole damn time / Dreaming up a life?”
What’s a dream and what’s real? By the finish, the chorus is cut through with jagged electric guitar and Lady Lamb is completely disembodied. “I left my body in the bed,” she shouts through reverb. But her head, it floated through the ceiling.
This is certainly heady stuff. She can make the mendacity of eggs for breakfast in “Penny Licks” serve as stark setting, pull the listener along with the bounce of Voxtrot or Erin McKeown, then just all of a sudden go for the throat: “We will crane our necks/ We do not wish to make a baby … We were not built to raise this city up … We do not wish to start a family… We were not made to build this city up.”
Reproduction? The future? Who can be bothered? Truly, “you’re only a handsome animal,” Spaltro reminds us in the soaring and, frankly, thrilling “Violent Clementine.” The production here by Issa is inventive and crazy smart. The pairing of their voices is the only non-Spaltro vocal on the album and it is previewed by a pair of dualed instruments. First, we get a tambourine and clawhammer banjo. Second, a digitized and blooping bass and a drum kit. Then all of a sudden they are smashed together and it works way better than it should.
All of which is prelude to a gloriously soaring horn section in the bridge, big and stomping and etching a wide-open expanse.
There is a musical theater effect to most of the 12 songs here, strong narrative threads that only touch on love when it’s part of the story and are absurdist in their unpredictability. The result is to make the tiny grand, to inflate the every day with importance and meaning. Which is all to bring this out-of-body experience full circle.
The body is enough. Stop thinking so much.
Stop for a minute “just to hear the chorus,” Spaltro teases on the truly catchy “Milk Duds,” which has a quick strum and a tambourine and kick drum in lock step to create a four on the floor appropriate for “when you get back to Brooklyn.” This is organic pop as counterpoint to the increasingly digital contemporary fare. The handclaps are icing. It should be on one of those WB shows when everything’s going right.
And “Ten” will be that same scene in nostalgic retrospective a few seasons later, nothing but vocals and the picked electric guitar, Spaltro’s vocals doubled to emphasize the remembered relationships: “My mother, she keeps a journal / Of her childhood memories, as they return.” But that nostalgia is matter-of-fact, cognizant once again of our ephemeral nature.
“There’s a sweetness in us that lives long past the dust on our eyes,” she sings, lingering over the words, “once our eyes finally close.” And the horns swell up again for a 15-second coda that’s an artful tie-in to the album’s openers.
That it goes on for six minutes, just vocals and guitar, and maintains intensity and interest all that time speaks to the deep well of talent Spaltro draws upon. Her style is her own, she commands attention, and she is playful enough that it never feels like too much work to keep up with her.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper has already in these two albums with Issa a body of work with so much to dig into and so much to consider. All of that and easy on the ears, too.
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez.