The Lowdown: Until now, the music of Aly Spaltro has danced around the periphery of the autobiographical; the most striking image from her 2015 hit “Billions of Eyes” wasn’t about her, but the corpse of her great-grandmother’s saintly unsullied sister. After four years away, Spaltro returns ready to head inward for a change, on a search for the meaning that’s been in retreat since her last record dropped. That conversation comes in the form of Even in the Tremor, the new record that early press materials call “the first time in her career that Spaltro is singing explicitly about herself.”
The Good: Part of Lady Lamb’s extended layoff between records can be traced to her uncompromising approach to finding a producer. Her insistence paid off: the record unfolds under the guidance of Erin Tonkon, the ex-Bowie collaborator whose confident production work matches and elevates Spaltro’s newly personal stream-of-consciousness storytelling. Often, this power comes through rhythm; the panicky beat of “Even in the Tremor” underscores Spaltro’s search for present-centered realness, “Oh My Violence” sways like a pop fusion of Memphis hitmakers Stax and Sun, and the twitching claps, staccato strings, and yelping horns of “July Was Mundane” add a humid summer tension to the song’s meditation on isolation, self-reliance, and desire. Befitting any highly personal search for meaning, some of Even in the Tremor’s strongest songs are positioned as prayers; both “Untitled Soul” and “Prayer of Love” are fierce and fiery and self-aware and radiate relatability to anyone who’s spent the years since 2015 looking for a few hard-earned answers, too.
The Bad: Ultimately, your enjoyment of the record will likely hinge on your feelings about Spaltro’s divisively unorthodox cadence, a delivery choice that’s distinctive at best and distracting at worst. It’s mostly a win here, though Spaltro’s verbosity does hamstring some of Even in the Tremor’s otherwise-strong moments. Mostly, it’s simply a volume issue: “Little Flaws” sacrifices its stickiest images (the ones of the flower and the batting cage are particular sweet) to a jumbling traffic jam of words that makes those moments difficult to savor. The issue is most pronounced on the third verse of the overstuffed “Deep Love”, which finds Spaltro veering close to Family-Guy-making-fun-of-Randy-Newman territory. Those tracks also unfold with some of the album’s safest (and least memorable) production choices, which will leave listeners wondering how they might’ve sounded with the adventurousness that Spaltro and Tonkon exhibit elsewhere. You never doubt the sincerity of the material on Even in the Tremor, or the talent behind its creation, but you also never doubt that a few of these songs could’ve used another edit.
The Verdict: Talking about yourself is hard, but on Even in the Tremor, Lady Lamb succeeds and then some. The record’s highs validate Spaltro’s position as one of indie’s storytellers to watch while its lows only make you feel like she tried to cram two records’ worth of tales into a single disc (and perhaps capitulated to a few bland arrangements along the way). Even with those flaws, Even in the Tremor is a welcome return and a real-time reminder that imperfection can be beautiful, too.
Essential Tracks: “Even in the Tremor”, “July Was Mundane”, and “Oh My Violence”
Buy: Check out Lady Lamb vinyl here.