With her second album After, Lady Lamb faces the challenge of following an album, which for a debut, showed a surprising maturity in both songwriting and musical arrangement, as the songs shifted between moods, built-up and broke-down, rather than taking on more simple songwriting structures. On opening track Vena Cava, we see a continuation of this bold songwriting style, as the song switches between the gentle strumming of the opening verse and the interjection of harder-rocking guitars. It continues her style of taking songs in unexpected direction, keeping listeners on their toes.
Billions of Eyes, the lead-single off the album, shows us another side of Lady Lamb. You could describe the sound as Kimya Dawson meets Angel Olsen… And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. As well as the catchy-guitar riff and more noticeable chorus/refrain, there is a fantastic observational quality to the lyrics, as she talks about her connection to the eyes looking back at her on a train – “for a millisecond we share a look like a family does/Like we have inside jokes/Like we could call each other by little nicknames…”
Her often dark, surreal lyrics and the crescendoing quality to her songwriting is comparable to Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. This similarity is particularly noticeable in Vena Cava, where she mentions “the queen bringing blood into the chamber”, possibly a reference to Angela Carter’s short story collection “The Bloody Chamber and other stories”. Heretic shows us a wittier lyrical-side, Lady Lamb singing over the lead guitar riff- “when you show us your notes and stroke your chin/you think that you’re up but you’re tagged and you’re it”.
As well as lyrical variety, there is plenty of musical range on show too. Sunday Shoes is a rare exception where the song maintains the same tempo and dynamics throughout, a sweet lullaby in the midst of her constantly moving arrangements; not to say that this is detrimental to the song in any sense, as she leaves one of the album’s calmer moments by presenting images of the afterlife where “you will become your favourite colour”.
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A perfect example of Lady Lamb’s shifting style is Penny Licks, a track which begins with a sweet melody and handclaps before segueing into an irregular drum beat and bass guitar breakdown, before the grungy guitars finish things off. The same can be said of Violet Clementine, another album highlight, with the acapella opening being joined by fairly minimal accompaniment, but before you know it, the song is hurtling to a finish with rolling drums, rapid banjo strumming and blasts from the horn section.
As was the case with her last album, the constant building up and breaking down of songs is an unusual approach, which she once again manages to pull off in a natural way. It does not seem like a forced tactic to make her songs seem more interesting, it’s just how the songs happen to flow. Instrumental breaks serve as short transitions between musical movements, but for the most part Lady Lamb continues to sing, as her songs are packed full of words, reminiscent of Sun Kil Moon’s lyrical density.
Closing song Atlas is arguably the strongest track on the album, taking a fairly kitchen-sink approach, as soft, single strums support a gentle vocal, before the instrumental comes to life with chamber strings and heavier guitars. Ultimately, the track fades out with a sense of melancholy as she sings “I want to swim the length of the life with you”. The thirty seconds of silence at the end of the album seem to bear a sense of self-awareness, as you almost expect the track to jump back into life, given the unpredictable nature of this collection songs.
There is little to be found wanting, as the album is brave with its instrumentation, which features a variety of sounds to the guitars, while not shying away from letting horns, organs and strings join the party when needed. Her vocals soar throughout, as while maintaining her adventurous songwriting approach, she shows a growing ability to create sentimental, nostalgic atmospheres around her melodies. Although she is still growing as an artist, and I would argue that her best work is still to come, on the back of her last two efforts, she should not go unnoticed. For singer-songwriters everywhere, Aly Spaltro, AKA Lady Lamb, is a breathe of fresh air.
‘After’ is out now on BB*ISLAND. The full track-listing for the album is…
‘Billions of Eyes’
‘Spat out Spit’
‘Dear Arkansas Daughter’