Lamb - Between Darkness And Wonder
It was Electribe 101 that made it obvious. On hearing their debut single, Talking With Myself, their mix of a robotically cold backing and Billy Ray Martin's rich vocals created such a smart variation on the torch song that sounded effortlessly cool; still does, in fact. Electribe 101 were unlikely to do the whole electronic torch song thing. Indeed, they may well have come along late in the day but given the release of albums such as this, Electribal Memories could have been released only months ago and the effect would have been somewhat the same.
Lamb are somewhat the flipside to the euphoric anthems that roll across mainland Europe from Ibiza. Coming from Manchester, where the drizzle off the Penines dampens the spirit somewhat, Lamb continue with the sense of melancholy that drifted through their three earlier albums and onto this, their latest.
Mixing electronica and rich vocals, Between Darkness And Wonder uses folk as a point with which to begin but, fear not, there's little here to scare anyone away. With an eye on the traditional folk of European countries, including that native to the UK and Ireland, Lamb take the view that folk should be of relevance to those living in something approaching modernity. Instead, therefore, of a seemingly endless run of songs about peoples long forgotten, Between Darkness And Wonder keeps to what one might see as approaching 'real life' with a habit of expressing an honesty about the difficulties in just keeping going. Clouds Clear, for example, appears to be about the difficulty one has in just avoiding depression whilst Angelica, the best track on the album, is a heartbreaking instrumental over which a lonely piano plays. Maintaining this theme of loneliness is Hearts And Flowers in which singer Louise Rhodes complains of feeling alone even in her lover's arms. Yet as much as Lamb do tend to dwell on those moments when all hope within relationships appears to be lost, they do offer a sense of hope that all will be well given a little time.
This is not to say that Between Darkness And Wonder is entirely successful. Too often it gives the impression of falling back on the notion that just surviving in a relationship is simply all too much. Instead of offering a contrast between moments of great sadness with those that offer a degree of hopefulness, Between Darkness And Wonder does tend to find what its comfortable with in the first few minutes and sticks with it. Instead of, say, REM's Automatic For The People, which used the contrast between Everybody Hurts and Find The River to engage the listener, Between Darkness And Wonder does become so overpowering that there is little option but to begin tuning out, which is surely not what Lamb had intended.
Yet, well, I would say that I'll be coming back to Between Darkness And Wonder quite a bit simply due to the quality of the music on each track. Whilst Angelica is outstanding, each song is both beautifully structured and played, having all the delicacy of William Orbit's backing of Madonna on Ray Of Light. In as much, however, as that album played the emotionally tender Frozen off the thumping Ray Of Light, Lamb ought to show a little more daring than is obvious on Between Darkness And Wonder, to not only highlight those moments when one is left alone and crying into a pillow but to also show how it's possible to find some hope in the hedonistic charge of dancing alone in a club all night. Little is as soothing to those who find themselves alone than the rushes of drunkenness and recklessness and had Lamb put that into song a little more, Between Darkness And Wonder could have been a great album. As it is, it's simply very good.