The Love Language began as most indie rock outfits do: with a broken heart and a four-track recorder. North Carolinian Stuart McLamb, after a period of self-destruction and a crumbled relationship, found solace through recording his lo-fi pop symphonies. His first, self-titled full-length album was a homemade document of a man growing up and getting stronger, pulling himself back up and delivering some quality rock songs in the process. But a lot has changed in the 17 months since that album’s release. McLamb formed a band, which disbanded shortly thereafter, moved back to Raleigh, signed to Merge Records and abandoned the fuzz of his debut for greener, more robust sonic pastures on sophomore effort Libraries.
Much to the contrary of the Love Language’s debut, Libraries is anything but lo-fi. It’s a richer and more massive record, one with a distinctly vintage sound. Much like labelmates The Rosebuds (who are friends of McLamb’s) or Arcade Fire, McLamb and producer BJ Burton have taken elements of early rock ‘n’ roll and ’60s pop and applied them to a more modern foundation. As such, it’s a gorgeous record, but still very much rock ‘n’ roll. The metallic clang of piano keys clangs beneath heavily reverb-laden guitars and otherworldly vocal harmonies on the stunning “Blue Angel.” Yet a more upbeat and simpler rocker like “Heart To Tell” maintains a similarly lush sound, thanks in part to drum-and-handclap breakdowns and the meticulous placement of glockenspiel amid the prevalent guitar jangle.
For as much elaborate instrumentation as there is adorning each of these ten tracks, Libraries is very much a guitar record. Not a particularly showy one, but a guitar record all the same. In fact, the album’s first song is titled “Pedals,” and true to its name, carries a pristine tone, balancing distortion and reverb in equal measure. A similar guitar sound is given a shaper edge and undercut with acoustic strums and organ on the incredible “Brittany’s Back.” And a similar six-string combination lends an emotional weight to the lovely “Summer Dust,” a standout with the aesthetic of a final summer beach fling in a long forgotten era.
In just a little longer than a year, Stuart McLamb has graduated from home recordings to big studio affair, and without any sonic bumps or blips in the transition. This lush and warm sound suits The Love Language brilliantly, so much that it’s hard to imagine McLamb in any other context.
MP3: “Heart to Tell”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.