Sprain : The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred and Fifty XOXOXOS for a Spark Union With My Darling Divine

Sprain the Lamb as effigy review

A few years ago, I spoke to Sprain members Alex Kent and April Gerloff during the press cycle for their 2020 debut album As Lost Through Collision. When discussing their plans for future music, Gerloff said, “We’ve been mainly working on new material. I didn’t know we could take some stuff to the next level and we’re taking it to the next level.” Her words were technically correct, but they did not accurately portray the scope of that level. The best way to express the shock of hearing The Lamb As Effigy would be to look at Sprain’s evolution from a slowcore two-piece outfit on their debut self-titled EP to a slithering noise rock quartet in less than two years. They signed to The Flenser after writing As Lost Through Collision in 2020, a label synonymous with promoting music that delves into dark recesses for exploration’s sake. Such freedom encouraged Sprain to lose their inhibitions, evident in their lack of self-limitation on The Lamb As Effigy

The record stands at 96 minutes and half its runtime is split between only two tracks. These mammoth pieces—”Margin for Error” and “God, or Whatever You Call It”—are representative of the album’s attitude. Despite their 20-plus minute structures, they don’t build towards a crescendo with a rising-and-falling pattern like post-rock, nor do they accelerate their length with multiple tempo changes a la Sufjan Stevens’ “Impossible Soul.” Sprain compel you to ponder while they collapse and reassemble themselves through noise rock, drone, classical, and avant-garde lenses. 

Given that information, it’s correct to assume that, even after multiple listens, it’s impossible to grasp everything that’s happening on the album. Yet, this quality speaks more to Sprain’s expertise because The Lamb As Effigy is not exhausting; it’s enticing. It obfuscates details but provides enough clarity that you’re driven to revisit it to uncover more. Running the album back once it concludes isn’t mandatory, but it works surprisingly well as a circular function. That’s also to say that the short time The Lamb As Effigy has been available (even to a writer like myself with early access) hasn’t been enough. It’s akin to completing Elden Ring once during the week after its launch—there’s simply too much remaining, though what you can gather in that short time guarantees remarkable quality. 

Patience is the virtue binding The Lamb As Effigy. It’s vital to approach the album knowing you’ll be asked to test your endurance. Similarly, Sprain test their own to conjure their most fruitful excursions. In such a way that adversity breeds adaptation, Sprain deliberately put themselves in the most uncomfortable positions to experiment with the aftermath. They stubbornly see all concepts through to—and past—their ends, a practice that pays off on the longer tracks. They possess an unforced momentum even if they move at a snail’s pace. Every track over 10 minutes has downtime which acts as an inhalation and exhalation period. They’re necessary inclusions when the songs are so draining, either on an auditory level—the eruption that bisects “Margin for Error,” for instance—or an emotional one. The pacing keeps the record running smoothly without diluting its most powerful moments. Rather than clamoring for your attention all the time, Sprain understand stamina.

The other notable influence on Sprain, aside from that of musicians who demand grit from their listeners, is architecture. Brutalism was a key influence on As Lost Through Collision, with Kent once saying their songwriting process pantomimed the architectural style’s cold, sterile, and angular characteristics. The Lamb As Effigy resembles a less structured apparatus. It’s more like an abyss in the Nietzschian definition. Its loose parameters are occasionally marked by surging basslines and pointed guitars, but they’re just as frequently dissolved into pure noise as on “Privilege of Being” where strings squeal against harsh electronics. The point being that Sprain don’t give too much of a shit about where a track should go. They’d rather stay in a moment and allow it to fester into its own entity, whether that’s the aforementioned “Privilege of Being” turning into a horror show, or Kent’s emotional disintegration when confronting the supposed lamb on “God, or Whatever You Call It.”

No member better encompasses this unpredictability than Kent, who delivers a tour-de-force performance that runs the gamut of multiple dynamics, styles, and pitches. He busts out falsettos at the drop of a hat, a new trick he employs to unsettle the album. It’s just one of his multiple tools that allows him to stand toe-to-toe with the album’s errant instrumentation. His lyrics further compound his madman approach. They’re dense and unapproachable, providing enough framework to infer his meaning but remaining close to his chest to maintain mystique. “Animals eat animals et cetera, Animals fuck animals et cetera, Do I have to spell it out for you?” is a typical Kent line, mixing violence, shock, and coarseness. His words are anything but transparent, but they become fragile through his delivery. 

To mention it again, “God, Or Whatever You Call It” is the pinnacle of this approach as Kent breaks down when confronting the lamb (as opaque a symbol as any on The Lamb as Effigy). He repeats “I can’t sing if you’re looking at me,” each utterance wrenching further as if he’s succumbing to the audience, or God, or the lamb. It’s the sort of expressionist approach that the album excels at. Much has been theorized about the unrepentant noise that Kent converses with on the track, with some online proposing that it represents God’s indecipherability. How scientifically backed that conclusion is matters not as Sprain have succeeded at a greater goal—giving the audience incentive to restart The Lamb As Effigy and discover their own answers. 

Label: The Flenser

Year: 2023

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