Lady Lamb, a.k.a. Aly Spaltro (formerly also possessing of stage name suffix “The Beekeeper”) admits she feels a little out of her element writing catchy choruses. Though you wouldn’t know that by listening to her new album, “After,” out this week on Mom+Pop Music.
Despite the knotted, complex lyrical content and the impassioned vocal delivery she’s become known for — online music magazine Pitchfork called her last album, 2013’s “Ripely Pine,” full of equal parts “timidity and ferocity” — “After” has pop woven into its musical DNA in a way nothing Spaltro, a Brunswick native, has written before. Give lead single “Billions of Eyes” a listen and just try to get that wordless chorus out of your head.
“I think it was sort of a subconscious effort to be a little more concise, because writing choruses and hooks definitely does not come easily to me,” said Spaltro, who lives full time in New York but still calls Maine her home. “I wanted the challenge. And I wanted to have that directness. It’s not sugary radio pop, obviously, but there’s something more accessible about it.”
With “Ripely Pine,” Spaltro gave the songs she’d been playing for more than five years full, explosive, fiery life — her original fans in Maine had heard them played live for years, mostly in raw, voice-and-guitar solo form. With “After,” there’s an almost entirely new crop of songs written by Spaltro in the past two years (“Penny Licks” is a longtime live favorite) that showcase her maturity as a songwriter. There are less six-minute-plus epics; the fat is cut from the lean, and the resulting collection of songs are more concise, more pointed, and yes, more accessible. After all, the person you are at age 19 is quite different from the person you are at age 25 — especially when, in this case, you’ve gone from being a local up-and-comer in Maine to a nationally-known name in indie rock circles.
“The last songs I wrote [for ‘Ripely”] were written when I was 18, and I’m obviously a different person now. The themes are all different,” said Spaltro. “In all honestly, I actually had a lot of fun writing this, which I didn’t have with the last one. The last is really palpably dramatic. I was younger. I was going through some stuff. This is more about me. More about the things I think about and all that existential kind of stuff, but it’s also more playful.”
It’s Spaltro’s lyrics that set her apart from the songwriting crowd. With “After,” they inhabit a place somewhere in between the surreal poetry of her earlier work and a more direct, grounded lyrical approach. On “Violent Clementine,” the strange refrain of “You build a nest of yellow yarn / you help to guide the yellow yard / It’s soft enough to break your fall / should you fall, should you fall” winds it’s way throughout the song, ripe for interpretation. And then, on the heartbroken “Milk Duds,” Spaltro takes a more specific tack: “You fell asleep on a box of Milk Duds / they melted into the clubhouse cushion / I’ve never loved another person more / than I loved you when I woke that morning.”
The jaunty horn arrangements that defined the sound of “Ripely” also return — though deployed in more strategic form, decorating the spine of the brooding “Violent Clementine” and simmering “Spat Out Spit.” There are also a few intimate, solo guitar Lady Lamb signature songs, like the heartbreaking “Sunday Shoes,” but for the most part, the dominant mode of “After” is rock — informed by both contemporary indie rock and 90s alt-rock, with much more emphasis on heavy riffage, be it the pop-friendly guitar hook of “Heretic” or the stomping, swaggering, 70s-punk tinged “Batter.” Spaltro said she had fun writing this album, and it shows.
“I knew this was going to be a journey for me, musically,” she said. “Usually I’ll sit down and write a song in one burst and not have too much trouble with it, but with a song like the second single [‘Spat Out Spit’] I was so puzzled by it… there were pieces of it. Eventually I decided to try my hands at arranging the drums, and that’s when it came together. That was totally unexpected for me. It was a learning experience.”
“After” comes out this week, officially Tuesday, March 3; Lady Lamb will play three CD release shows in March, including Rough Trade in New York on March 3, The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass. on March 7, and at Port City Music Hall in Portland on Friday, March 13, all with special guests Cuddle Magic. A six-week North American tour kicks off on April 3. For more information, visit ladylambjams.com.