by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
Over the course of a decade under The Love Language moniker, Stuart McLamb has found a number of ways to package his feedback-laced noise as pop music, from the lo-fi hiss of his debut to the distortion-heavy hi-fi of Libraries to the relatively tidy chamber pop of Ruby Red—immediately repackaged as garage rock on the Black Mt. Demos tape. While continuing to work outside of conventional genres, McLamb taps into a wide range of influences that can rarely be heard under, say, the crescendoing whirs of “Horophones,” a surreal brand of sunshine pop skillfully contorted to inhabit a mecha-dystopia without dropping the xylophone accompaniment.
On Baby Grand, The Love Language exhibits surprising new fluencies after a five-year silence. Opener “Frames” and early single “Castle in the Sky” tear through their brief runtimes with skygazing dream pop; “Juiceboxx” and “Shared Space” incorporate a Bon Iverian soultronica; “New Amsterdam” borrows from the grandiose glam of M83; closers “Let Your Hair Down” and the slide-guitar assisted “Glassy” exhibit an immediate nostalgia for McLamb’s recently abandoned home in North Carolina. Lyrically and musically Baby Grand is disinterested in the sonic dysphoria that willed the band’s previous albums into existence due to the distraction of McLamb’s manifest destiny and the obvious, flashy impact of his ultimate destination: Los Angeles.
Despite the post-breakup glum inspiring much of the record’s lyrics, Baby Grand feels defined by its nomadic optimism, which shines through in nearly every facet of its shape-shifting form. The utter euphoria packed into the glinting “Frames” could only be an homage to the first on-ramp of a one-way cross-country roadtrip, while “Castle in the Sky” has the careless edge of exceeding the speed limit in the excruciatingly flat Midwest. Like the quivering string section and plinking piano in “New Amsterdam,” McLamb’s pleas to escape his past are drowned out by the impenetrable feedback of Slowdive-indebted guitar, irreverently climaxing with an operatic vocal feat in the final thirty seconds.
Though it may possess the Rorschach qualities of The Love Language’s previous discography, Baby Grand is an enormous leap in terms of successfully repurposing discernible (and contemporary) genres to the project’s distinct persona. It’s rare to find an artist who can naturally appeal to fans of both Fleet Foxes and My Bloody Valentine within a span of ten minutes on a record, and rarer still when the band bites the style of neither.