I've been trying to "review" albums a little more frequently; there is just so much good music out there and I want to get as much on TWD as possible. Adding to the recent burst of posts is an absolutely stellar album Ripely Pine by Aly Spaltro, better known as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Seriously, this is not one to miss.
Every time I get really into a musical work, I experience the conflict between an urge to share it and the intimidation of how on Earth I could ever manage to do it justice. On the one hand, Ripely Pine intimidates me more than any piece of music has in a long while because it is so good. But on the other, a record this fearless makes it clear how much of a copout any hesitation is; it's a mistake to think about myself instead of this staggering, ambitious album. Because that's ultimately what matters: the record, which I love. I've spent a lot of time with it and after multiple listens, my appreciation deepens. Still, I'll do my best to explain to you why I think this album is very much worth listening to.
Even just one spin, or just one play of a song like "Bird Balloons" should give a good impression of why Ripely Pine is so mesmerizing. The immediate takeaway is the raw power and epic vision. How can you not be hooked from the jittering guitar and the snarl of the opening lines “I’m a ghost and you all know it. I’m singing songs and I ain’t slowing. It was a fragile thing and I goddman dropped it. I picked the pieces up and put them in my pocket?” In just under forty-five seconds, we have what might be the album’s mission statement and the undeniable sense Lady Lamb is a true artist, one who is completely unrelenting in her self-examination, which deftly expands to encompass the universal human experience. You hang onto her every word because of the supreme poetry in the writing and because each vocal performance is stunning. She is not just singing but imbuing her words with her very essence, no matter who the narrator of the song actually represents, and it is utterly transfixing. She's just as gifted musically, veering between simple solo performances to arranging a menagerie of instruments to maximize the emotional content of the music. Many of the songs are long and traverse a wild terrain of twists. Part of the rush is falling headlong into the journey to see where it all goes.
I don't want to risk belittling what an accomplishment I think this record is by making comparisons but, paradoxically, I feel I need to make some connections to other music to explain how unique Lady Lamb comes across. She is assuredly a singular talent. What I think she's doing that I haven't really encountered is weaving strands of folk/Americana with punk/art/emo rock in such a seamless way. She’s making me realize through-lines I never noticed about some of my favorite artists. Is the intricate adventurousness of Sujfan Stevens really that far off from the layered bombast of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, for example? I can hear the cinematic vividness of Iron & Wine swirling into the ragged directness of Cursive. Not to mention how she joins a proud lineage of creative female artists who have captivated with richly personal, musical engrossing albums, even if none sound much like the others, like Feist, Regina Spektor, and Bjork. Sometimes we are treated to just acoustic guitar or banjo. Other times the jagged electric guitar is just one part of the sonic maelstrom that also includes horns, drums, strings, and electronic textures. The record is pensive and it's churning, it's an ideal version of synthesizing distinct elements into something that feels wholly original.
The lyrics are dense. The imagery verges on surrealism quite frequently, done in service of making things more intimate than to shroud or make opaque. Many songs are rife with bodily viscera: blood and limbs and hair and ligaments and marrow and teeth round organs and ribcages. This extends to nature as well, there are ravaging vultures and ants on a carcass and a dead deer and alligators under the water. There are Biblical motifs. Really, the lyrics deserve a close reading. Perhaps her greatest skill is knowing exactly how to use her voice to give the words the most perfect effect, whether it's a whisper or absolutely letting it rip into screams. I tend to gravitate towards the latter for their surge of catharsis.
I haven’t really gotten into much detail about any of the songs. Partly because I think what I say matters little compared to just listening and partly because there are simply too many highlights. But I have to gush about one of my favorites, "Crane Your Neck,” which really encompasses just about everything great about the album. The early verses move briskly over a very rhythmic guitar part. This is an occasion where you might get more of the folk feeling. The verses are as strongly written as anything on the record. It starts with "I press my ear against your back not even a week after we met and I felt your heartbeat fall like rain drops in a bucket." Soon after there's "And I wish to fall asleep deep in your marrow as gently a mouse curled up in a ball." The lines utilize body parts and metaphors to poetically capture a budding romance in a beautiful way, one that is not saccharine but very real and human. It gets even more gripping with the lines of sexual awakening “We ripped off all our clothes” and “You brought out the beast in me, the parts that are dormant I wish to set them free.”
If I hadn’t fallen fully by now, I was completely taken by the just stop everything and pay attention moment of “I’m as blue as blood before the blood goes red. And how it hurts, even in the sun. It’s a god damn joke how we can hurt even in the sun. For a heart beats the best in a bed beside the one that it loves,” a part punctuated by the cathartic yells I had hinted at. We get complete vulnerability, but it becomes strength in its honesty. From here, it is an aural encapsulation of that process. The guitars become more confident and majestic, marching along with tubas and bass towards the outro that implores “Shake your hips” and “Crane your neck.” This little nod to dance reminded me of another epic, personal, artistic track that I was similarly deeply moved by from the astonishing first listen: “Land” by Patti Smith. And with the main chord progression, I can’t not hear echoes of “High and Dry” by Radiohead. The craziest part is, saying “It’s like Patti Smith meets Radiohead” falls short of the song's greatness and uniqueness. But it does serve to convey Lady Lamb is in good company with this wonderful debut record.
Ripely Pine radiates with the vitality in messiness. This is an album giving voice to pure feeling, where all sensations are valuable if they touch you strongly, regardless of what the actual feeling is or if it's "good" or "bad." It makes love vulgar and pain sublime. Lady Lamb is channeling everything raw about navigating relationships and coming into your own. She calls forth what comes from way deep inside that you know intuitively before your mind can process it, yet there is clear craft and meticulous arrangement to these tableaus of human experience. It is part abstract expressionism, part Dutch table painting, and all masterpiece.
I dig this record and I recommend you check it out. You can buy the album here. Also, the band is touring all over the place for the next several months and we just might have a cool project cooking with Lady Lamb in the near future if it all works out.
Here's some more music & video:
Seriously. Get the record. You won't regret it.