A lot of times when I’m reviewing a band, I not only make a point of listening to as much of its output as I can find, but I also tend to do so in chronological order.
While some of my friends have let me know that such a strategy is foolish, I’ve found that it gives me a better understanding of an artist’s early sound and how far it has come.
Of course, that route inherently provides some obstacles with a lot of bands, particularly ones that have changed their sound a great deal and/or weren’t very good at first.
The Love Language would fall into the former category. And I thought the latter might be apt as well after starting to listen to their 2009 self-titled debut. The album opener, “Two Rabbits”, was jarring and just plain bad. It’s lo-fi at its worst.
But if you’re able to make it past that first bit of whiplash, things actually improve as the album progresses. The second track, “Lalita” provides a solid gauge of the group’s early potential.
The origin of the group, which hails from Raleigh, N.C., is an indie cliché. It started as a bedroom project from Stuart McLamb, who, after breaking up with his girlfriend, retreated to his parents’ house and started pouring his heart out on paper.
Those songs eventually turned into the eponymous debut, and McLamb recruited some more musicians, including his brother, to join him on the road.
The band’s follow-up, 2010’s Libraries, sounds far more professional, having been recorded in a proper studio under the watchful eye of producer BJ Burton and backed by the band’s new label, Merge Records.
From the opening two tracks — “Pedals” and “Brittany’s Back” — it’s clear that listeners are in for a more exciting experience. While the DIY, lo-fi ethos permeates throughout the album, it’s often overshadowed by a Wall of Sound pop attack that will elicit head-bobs and toe-taps from even the most stoic soul.
Nearly three years later, and after several pauses and restarts, McLamb and crew released their latest effort, Ruby Red, this past July.
The early potential on the debut, followed by the major step forward on the second album has led to this, the band’s most well-rounded and fleshed-out offering to date.
There are a number of indie contemporaries that likely influenced the production, but one that stands out is Arcade Fire. It might take multiple listens to hear it, but imagine a less-grandiose version of the Montreal all-stars’ early work. On such tracks as “First Shot” and “Pilot Light”, it’s as if Win Butler & Co. were brought in to lend a hand.
Another group that deserves a mention is Fanfarlo. It’s been a long time since they’ve been on my radar, but the comparison seems apt. Just listen to “Knots”.
And there are even stronger tracks here, including the opening “Calm Down”, “Hi Life” and “On Our Heels”, which sounds like it could have come from the ’80s underground scene.
I’m not sure if this album deserves to be considered among the year’s absolute best, but it’s worthy of at least the second tier.