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Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, aka Aly Spaltro, has hardly seen the kind of quick rise to fame that we seem to expect these days. Before a surge in popularity that has been completed with the international recognition of Ripely Pine, she recorded in a basement in her hometown of Maine, and gave her records out free on the counter of the DVD store she worked in. Her claim that she wrote and recorded in the hours succeeding long shifts in the shop would certainly account for the rawness that infuses so much of the album. Nine hours a day. A small town. Selling videos. You get the idea.
And it is rawness that defines this album. From the teenage-esque frustration and anger of the opening tracks to the rushed riffing and background screams of 'Rooftop', she brings an emotional edge which screams honesty at the listener.
For much of the album this is so effective. She begins with urgency and frustration, perhaps even in a genre unique to the first two tracks. Electric guitars whine at the world's injustices; the drums speed up to demonstrate her difficulty before slowing as if to ask "what is the point"...
'Aubergine' begins to develop some of the themes that continue through the middle tracks. She mirrors Regina Spektor's very functional delivery style, but fails to provide her cutting lyrical precision, instead at times producing love-lost cliche, 'Absence makes my heart grow hollow / Make me into an egg without yolk'. She's empty, OK. Got it?
But through this her sound remains diverse, with acoustic and electric sounds mixed in which gentle and whimsical voice contrasted against a sharper and angrier sound (think Jeff Buckley, but angrier). This is most effectively demonstrated in 'Bird Balloons', and combined with her most lucid lyrics, marking the turning point from the teenage frustration of tracks 1-3 to the more reflective and 'grown-up' Aly found in the later part of the album: 'It was a fragile thing and I goddamn dropped it / I picked the pieces up and put them in my pocket.../ I'm looking for a new muse, you have only made me tired.'
'Crane Your Neck' stands as a personal favourite on the album. A sound drawn from the ever-winning formula of Laura Marling, with lyrics that bring out the minor details that bring the album's narrative to life: 'I'm as blue as blood before the blood turns red', she howls.
Her site claims that she lacks any sort of formal logic; this is her great strength but also Ripely's weakness. Every three or so tracks you'll be growing into the music - only to find a curve-ball of a track sends you back to the aural drawing board. For example, just when you've fought through the album (it took me a couple of listens to get to grips with it), and been rewarded with the great celebratory track 11, 'The Nothing Part II', with its off-beat claps, backing singers and catchy chorus, you are then left with the final track 'Taxidermist taxidermist', which can only be described as 7 minutes and 11 seconds of screeching drear, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth.
And this really demonstrates the weakness of this album. Despite so many strong points such as her meaningful lyrics honestly delivered, a detailed and varied sound and a believable story pulsing through the album, Lady Lamb doesn't quite tie it all together. Out of place songs and perhaps even over-experimentation leave the listener slightly unsatisfied, but, for the album's ambition and its many strengths, it's certainly worth a listen.