Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Love Language – Libraries (Merge)

Pedals, the first track from the Love Language’s sophomore effort (and Merge debut), Libraries, wafts in… softly, at first. Shimmering strings and tinkling keys bring to mind watching fireflies from the back porch, on a sweltering summer night. Then the thud of drum and bass kick in, waves of guitar wash over, and frontman Stuart McLamb’s vocals call… seemingly returning from outer space… and you begin to think that maybe you’re dealing more with a swarm of slightly edgy bees. Their sting comes in the form of bittersweet reminiscing, over love lost and lessons learned, often accompanied by a Motown-via-ghosttown wall-of-sound. I say ghosttown because the effect isn’t quite Motown, but some ghostly, distorted, deeply southern version thereof. The effect is at times downright haunting.

Now, lots of indie bands have been incorporating the Phil Spector thing of late, and it’s impossible not to notice this in Love Language guitarist BJ Burton’s production. But few bands (save the occasional Spoon song) have ever melded it and other elements of 1960s pop so effectively with a 21st century indie ethos as the Love Language does on Libraries. Instead of just aping other eras, they incorporate and build on them.

But a simple melody is timeless, and production aside, this album is full of melodic gems. If you picked up the third track, This Blood Is Our Own, on iTunes yesterday, or on an FM station 25 years ago, or even a crackling AM station 50 years ago, it wouldn’t seem too out of place. The gospel-like verse sings of chasing lightning and being burned (“You chase the storm / and then I follow”), accompanied by soaring strings, which drop into the background as a chorus of “WHOOOO ooh oooh OOOOH” kicks in. The twangy bridge is followed by a moral: “All we've reaped is all that we've known, and now we're buried together". Preach, brother!

Songs like Blue Angel and Anthophobia echo the melodies of 60s acts like the Beach Boys, Mamas and Papas, and Donovan (even without the Hurdy Gurdy Man reference in Anthophobia)… or perhaps more accurately, they echo those acts’ take on 1920s pop. Nothing new is ever really new, is it? But always, always, with the deep, dark, atmospheric vibe. In Blue Angel, waves -- and what sounds like passing cars recorded through a high school gym window -- wash between a sad, waltzing melody and lyrics of dancing upon the tide, and sinking into the sand.

McLamb’s voice soars throughout… it and the timeless-yet-new melodies are surely the strengths the Love Language. But he often smartly drops it way into the background, to great effect, as in the chorus of Pedals (“loud whispers / are the hardest to… hear”). Other lyrics reveal a heart that’s becoming wisened with experience, as in Pedals (“blown wishes, off the dandelion / the truth is, all these changes take… time”) and Wilmont (“and you want me to haunt you / but you ‘ve started sprouting your wings”).

But Libraries isn’t all pensive and dark. Heart to Tell is a pure pop gem, driven by a jumpy guitar strum and rollicking clapping, stomping and drumming. Feedback, guitar solo, it’s got it all, yet clocks in at less than 2:30. It’s also perhaps the most unabashed love song, pleading for the object of affection to “walk all over me, just don’t you walk away”. Brittany’s Back and Horophones are also upbeat numbers, though upbeat in the way a good Van Morrison number is (still a bit of melancholy there). Still, while Heart to Tell could top any pop chart, the strength of Libraries is when it’s more introspective… which is, thankfully, most of the time.

Libraries was apparently recorded in mid-winter. But it is simply drenched in summer. Not just the lyrics of songs like Blue Angel, Summer Dust, or Wilmont, but the entire FEEL of it. Libraries is, simply, a GREAT summer album. Not one for a day at the beach, or riding around with the car top down. No, as alluded to above, this album is more for sitting on a porch, in stifling heat after dark, having a drink, and doing just about nothing else at all. After all, there are plenty of gorgeous melodies, thoughtful lyrics, and luscious swells on Libraries to keep your languishing brain occupied.

No comments:

Post a Comment