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.