Music Reviews

The Love Language Libraries

(Merge Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

 “I’ve really learned a lot, really learned a lot, love is like a stove, burns you when it’s hot”. – Roy Orbison

At least once in your lifetime, you’ll wind up as the hopelessly romantic loser, wasting precious energy on heartwrenching poetry, never ending tears, and the feeling that your heartbreak cannot be repaired. Stuart McLamb, brainchild of the Love Language, has already established himself as a contemporary crooner, taking note from personal accounts to vent on the harsh reality of letting go. A particular cross between Roy Orbison’s wishful naiveté and Frankie Avalon’s manufactured allure, his melodramatic vocals channel sad-sack archetypes of rock n’ roll’s bygone era, though he would implicitly mask out his vocals behind the scratchy, reverberate sound.

Though shades of Sun Records and rockabilly may suggest pastiche, McLamb is furthering his fondness for four-track cassette recordings by looking inwards instead of just evoking a pleasurable pop hook that’s connected with sun-drenched, rock n’ roll recordings. Instead of opting to repeat the lo-fi route, there’s an understanding that McLamb’s debut album was created for cheap because it was the only option. Libraries’ technical studio approach makes that past, gossamer sound faint by comparison - the vocals have been stepped to the forefront, leading the echo chamber of string arrangements and feedback-laden guitar overdubs.

Accompanied by producer BJ Burton, McLamb takes his method of recording bits and pieces to construct elaborate, grandiose designs. A nod to mastermind Phil Spector, Pedals opens Libraries with a spectacle of washed strings, barely noticeable choral backdrops, and boisterous guitar riffage. Even so, McLamb’s subtle, delicate tonality is the right fit to accompany the bombastic overtaking of instrumentation. This Blood is our Own reflects McLamb’s new stereo approach, stating how enlightenment can’t be caught or forced. The romantic, country pop subdues the treble, featuring a gorgeous ensemble of violins and echoing drum patterns, stopping the music by the bridge section to reflect on how the one thing that remains pertinent is the known, simple reality, but with a gracious optimism to look forward to.

For such a large and colossal sound, the best moments are contained within McLamb’s herky-jerky of spastic, congratulatory good will. Even if Heart to Tell follows the melody of a basic acoustic strum, he gathers indie pop aficionados in a sock hop competition, engrossed with hand and hip claps, pounding drums, and even an across the fret, Chuck Berry-like solo. Wilmont is his real foray into a more present-day stylistic approach, waving a final goodbye to his heartbreak, asserting the notion that what makes you softer can only make you mean. This is McLamb’s personal anthem, featuring an impulse of percussion and soft piano keys behind his sniveling ooohs. Just like Orbison, he’s stronger than before, turning away his mean woman blues to advocate peace with his former love.

Libraries is chock full of restructured reminiscence, yet doesn’t lay any cautions in modernizing pop’s landmark, time-honored aesthetic. McLamb is a sufficiently soulful songwriter; suited to paying homage to his predecessors and actually pulling off the phenomenal task of making it his own. Like the balladeers of glory’s past, McLamb does take the liberty of emoting his introspections. Contrary to his debut, his painfully direct meanderings have been replaced with poetic meditations, drawing landscapes in his stories and philosophizing about the struggles that pertain to star crossed lovers and their hardships. He’s just not speaking to himself, but advising to the rest of us, parting the fraught, distressed self he left behind.