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The Ladybug Transistor

July 12 • Mayday

By Brian Baker · July 6th, 2011 · Sound Advice
The Ladybug Transistor’s sonic path over the past 16 years has typically shifted with the band’s membership. Under the constant tutelage of founder Gary Olson, LT has embraced avant Shoegaze/Pop (1995’s Marlborough Farms), sugary Psychedelia (2001’s Argyle Heir) and varying degrees of baroque Indie Pop (1999’s The Albermarle Sound) and its Folk/Country byproduct (2007’s Can’t Wait Another Day); Olson and the Ladybugs even backed Kevin Ayers on his massively excellent comeback, 2007’s The Unfairground, further proof of their longstanding ability to work the appropriate fringes of a core sound and perform the wire-walk of drawing new listeners without alienating longtime fans.

With Clutching Stems, the band’s latest collection, Olson and this year’s LT exhibits a lush simplicity and a dark undercurrent, the latter coming at a terrible cost: Stems is LT’s first album since the untimely 2006 passing of longtime drummer San Fadyl, a tragedy that nearly ended the band.

Rather than breaking apart, Olson and the Ladybugs have come together stronger than ever, productively channeling their grief through brilliantly spartan Pop that bristles and soothes like a summit meeting of The Smiths, Lou Reed and Burt Bacharach.

The album’s lyrics betray a palpable sense of loss and pain but they’re often balanced tremulously against an upbeat musical accompaniment. Olson sings, “I left my heart at the station/You move away with the leaving train” on “Fallen and Falling,” but the soundtrack is more jaunty than dour. Elsewhere, the lyrical message and supporting music are more synchronous, from the sweet sadness of “Ignore the Bell” to the exquisite melancholy jangle of “Breaking Up on the Beat,” but ultimately Clutching Stems finds the Ladybug Transistor in a quietly hopeful frame of mind as they put their loss in perspective and come up with some of the best music in their impressive catalog.

The Ladybug Transistor plays Mayday Tuesday, July 12.



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