Music Reviews

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper After

(Mom + Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, AKA Aly Spaltro, is not flashy. She could be any other person wandering down the street or hanging out in a video store. But put a guitar in her hand and she turns into one of the most inventive new artists of recent years. Her second album, After, is a tight affair that mixes solid songwriting with tracks that refuse to adhere to the same tempo or chord progression. Like her debut, Ripely Pine, Spaltro’s gift for melody, her odd and sticky lyrics and her conversational voice are intriguing throughout nearly every song.

The album’s opener, Vena Cava, picks up right where her previous release left off, excellently switching between Spaltro by herself and with a full band, simulating the move from the coffee house to the theater stage. It’s followed by Billions of Eyes, a bouncy, peppy number that creates a memorable sing-along with its wordless chorus and relatable lyrics. Everyone knows what it feels like to have “the kind of high…when I barely make the train” or wanting to “fall into a pile of warm laundry.”

The catchiest number besides Billions of Eyes is Milk Duds. It’s a smile-on-your-face song that displays how all-encompassing love can make Spaltro struggle to remember “how to climb the stairs, how to tie my shoes and how to braid my hair.” At the end though, it’s revealed that this from a past relationship that no longer exists. Rather than looking back in sadness, though, she focuses on the joy of that time in her life.

Memories play a large role in two of the album's most direct and lyrically devastating songs. Spaltro’s voice is barely above a whisper in Sunday Shoes, as she sings with minimal accompaniment about the loss of innocence. On Ten, Lady Lamb looks back at experiences with her family and friends, as well as how their lives have changed since then. In the end, we survive through the stories we pass on to our loved ones. Or as Spaltro eloquently sings, “There's sweetness in us that lives long past the dust/On our eyes, once our eyes finally close.”

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is known for her ability to make melodies shine through experimental structures. The most successful of those endeavors here is Violet Clementine. Opening with just her voice and a banjo, a bluegrass vibe runs perpendicular to the dancefloor groove of the bass, which soon becomes the dominant rhythm. After an off-kilter, harmonious bridge, the song segues again into a gloriously regal marching tune, with military percussion and exuberant, yet melancholy horns pulled right out of The National’s playbook. You know how some songs seem like they shouldn’t work on paper? This track feels like it shouldn’t work while you’re listening to it. Yet, it does. After all, why write a good song around three distinct sections when you can write a great song using all three in the same tune?

Heretic does something similar with slow verses and chaotic choruses, but it doesn’t have the pull of Violet Clementine. Batter is also a unique presence on After, as it sounds like it belongs to the early-2000s garage rock revival, with a distorted riff and a rhythmic, halting vocal take. Sure, it feels like a throwaway number, but it is fun enough that it warrants its spot on the album. While After contains some of Spaltro’s strongest work, it has the same problem as her debut in that it runs a little too long. Unmemorable songs like Penny Licks and Dear Arkansas Daughter could have been cut and the record would have been better for it.

As Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Spaltro feels like she’s still developing her craft as a songwriter. Her homemade, casual approach, combined with her off-kilter way with words and melodies, make her one of the most original voices to come out of this decade. After isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly an album that sounds as strong and mysterious the first time and 10th time you listen to it. I can’t wait to see what she does next.