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The Love Language - Libraries

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Artist: The Love Language

Album: Libraries

Label: Merge

Review date: Jul. 13, 2010


The Love Language - "Heart to Tell" (Libraries)


Peruse the many Love Language clips on YouTube, which typically boast view counts in the hundreds or low thousands, and eventually you’ll stumble upon one of the least viewed but most endearing: a montage of Godard’s Band of Outsiders specially constructed to match The Love Language’s irrepressible “Lalita.” It’s not the superficial match among visual cues, words and music that impresses most; if anything, the synchronicity of the line “lay down beside me” with images of Anna Karina and her partners in crime sleeping might be too much. What makes the video striking and effective is the choice of pairing: like the early films of Godard, this music is intoxicated with popular culture of the past, yet it manages to reappropriate its motifs with such a combination of reverence and contemporary swagger that it turns the would-be merely nostalgic into something fresh and of the moment.

Begun with the 4-track home recordings of North Carolinian twentysomething Stuart McLamb, The Love Language released a very promising self-titled debut in 2009, boasting lo-fi but multi-instrumental pop with a flair for addictive melodies. Libraries is a much grander affair, fuzziness this time the product not of any recording constraints but of reverb and layers bleeding into a post-distortion take on Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. If the new sound is crisper — punctuated by snappy snares and pounding toms — it remains delightfully messy and is all the more viscerally resonant.

If play counts are the litmus test, song-of-the-season candidate “Summer Dust” merits its own paragraph. Faint electric and strummed acoustic guitar herald the entrance of a slight variation on the classic baion beat (a.k.a. “Be My Baby”). Almost immediately then McLamb’s voice kicks in: “…They say that our own bodies / Are made of bones and dust / And now we lie ‘neath the maple tree and pray that the leaves don’t cover us / Our hearts were beating / Like hummingbirds at night . . . Young hearts are bright / And just as light / And glowing in the air tonight.” The melody and its trappings are already good enough to make every could-be cloying phrase convincing, but it’s the instrumental countermelody (which distinctly recalls Springsteen’s “Waiting on a Sunny Day”) and ensuing refrain, “She said I wanna believe . . .,” that prove irresistible.

“Summer Dust” is the equilibrium point for a record that oscillates seamlessly between mid-tempo, guitar-driven jaunts and string-heavy, Richard Hawley-esque ballads. The faster paced numbers — like the slinky, hand-clapped surf rocker-cum-pocket symphony “Brittany’s Back,” or “Heart to Tell,” with its adumbrated mid-song guitar-hero breakdown — may command more attention, but their counterparts are equally successful on their own terms. The opener “Pedals,” for instance, is dominated by atmospheric instrumental passages with strings and twittering electric guitar, but emphatic, syncopated percussion keeps the ethereal grounded and gripping. Ditto “Wilmont” with its intricate, tribal pounds. Even the half-length throwaway swan song “This Room” is charming, with McLamb crooning over swaying music like a Roy Orbison for the millennial indie scene.

McLamb may be deep in the thralls of Brill Building-style songcraft and Wall of Sound production, but he channels both through a masculine, college rock nonchalance that helps remake old aesthetic pleasures anew. And in reconfiguring the arrangements and ear for melody of a bygone era, McLamb is following the lead of his predecessors themselves: male idols like Del Shannon who gave teen pop a touch of rebellion and a lot of heart, and those songwriting and production teams in and around 1619 Broadway that, for a brief historical moment, brought Tin Pan Alley’s fusion of western art music with blues to the sped-up backbeat and youthful rebellion of rock ‘n’roll. It’s no small compliment to say that The Love Language’s take on nostalgic pop is as convincing as the best of them.

By Benjamin Ewing

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