Fun, Challenging Indie Rock
When Aly Spaltro, better known by her stage name, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, describes her music, she says she likes “to mix reality and moments from dreams to create a world that’s half-real, half-imaginary.” This mix of the dream world and the awakened one might have come from when she was working the night shift at a video store in her small Maine town. It was there that she working on her first recordings. Maybe, she dreamed of flying away. She eventually did, when she moved to Brooklyn. But the small town Americana could not be extracted from her forever, as the music on her second full-length album, After, incorporates classic American folk and feverish indie rock.
Listeners be warned: This is one of the weirdest albums to come out this year. With that said, it also one of the most fun and most challenging, if you are willing to put in the work. There are two main elements that contribute to the complexity of this album — Lady Lamb’s strange and offbeat lyrics and the guitar parts that accompany them. When she sings about something, you’re not quiet sure why she is doing it. Is it unique? Certainly. There is nothing about Lady Lamb that reminds you of someone else. But unique is not always a good thing if it does not serve some emotional purpose; if the listener can’t relate then there is no point.
This is best exemplified on the first track of the album, “Vena Cava,” where Lady Lamb spends the whole first verse waxing poetic about, well, the vena cava. She sings, accompanied by the rasp of the guitar, her voice sliding from jazzy high note to jazzy high note: “The vena cava / The most superior, the queen / Bringing blood into the chamber.” It’s pretty, sure, but why is she singing, why is she telling you something that you would already know if you had taken ninth grade biology? That is the mystery that must unfold. But she keeps it a mystery a little longer, as she delves into the loud and unexpected chorus. Then, in the second verse, it is finally revealed; when she claims that she “can feel how the seams” of her lovers “ribs” were separated from hers and she can “tell how much TV will fail to comfort me in [their] absence.” This is a song about lost love, about how bodies are removed from other bodies and other souls too. It’s pretty brilliant.
She continues this streak of brilliance — along with her quirky lyrics and quiet-loud guitar dynamics — for much of the first half of the album (look out for the striking a cappella opening to “Violet Clementine”). But it is when Lady Lamb goes quiet and vulnerable that the music is truly striking. She marvels at the beauty of ordinary life on the single, “Spat out Spit:” “Now I’m sitting on the train and I am peeling an orange / I glance over nonchalantly at a woman / She is yawning / And though this sight is common / I am abruptly mesmerized.” Her voice is so sweet and sturdy that it could almost make you cry. Simply put, it is beautiful.
After — much like its cover — reminds the listener of an Edward Hopper painting: clear and bright, in primary colors; but something is always a bit off, like the diner with no entrance or the chorus with the strange guitar part. It is a clear-cut vision with intricate pieces; it is fun and challenging. It is one of the best records of the year.