In the folk songwriting tradition, mythological backstories create icons. It is hard to explain Bon Iver without retelling the tale of Justin Vernon retreating to a cabin in the woods, returning with For Emma, Forever Ago. Conor Oberst started Bright Eyes began as a 13-year old songwriting prodigy. Jeff Mangum released In An Aeroplane Over the Sea before retreating from public life for a decade, to an audience exponentially larger than the one he left.
Aly Spaltro’s story begins in the basement of a video rental store. She worked there as a clerk and, after acquiring too much gear for her bedroom, asked for and gained permission to jam in the store’s basement (video store managers ruled, RIP).
In an interview with BandWagon, Spaltro explains that the video store was quite the hot spot (in 2007?), so Spaltro adopted a moniker: Lady Lamb. This assured her anonymity as a she honed her songwriting chops.
What followed were many long nights, with an 18 year old Spaltro picking up and learning any instrument she could find or afford. She dived into recording, releasing three albums before turning 21. This diversity and experience is easily recognizable in Lady Lamb’s latest record, After.
Lead single ‘Billions of Eyes’ weaves midwestern punk with a twee melody as Spralto unfurls her nuanced tales with attention to detail and incongruent storytelling. “The kind of high I like is when I barely make the train, And the people with a seat smile big at me because they know the feeling, And for a millisecond we share a look like a family does”.
Originally Spaltro went by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, an idea that came to her in a dream. This lucid association shows up in her lyrics too, heard in ‘Bird Balloons’, “It’s as if leprosy, it landed on the moon, and it cast a filthy glow in the world and in my room”.
If Lady Lamb was shy at first, it does not show up in her voice. Spaltro has an assured confidence in her voice, which dynamically directs the band up into a crescendo and back down to thoughtful consideration. Her range is on display in After, which deals with Spaltro’s personal stories more directly.
Lady Lamb’s lyrical specificites linger on long after her albums end. In ‘Milk Duds’, candy and intimacy are contrasted as sweet regret, necessary amusement for the emotionally broken, “We fell asleep on a box of Milk Duds, they melted into the clubhouse cushions, I’ve never loved another person, More than I loved you when I woke that morning”. On Vena Cava she preemptively mourns her decomposing relationship, “I know already how much TV will fail to comfort me in your absence”.
This lyrical intricacy betrays Lady Lamb’s admiration of early-2000’s singer-songwriters: Oberst, Mangum, and Sufjan Stevens. Her powerful voice has a distinctly female confidence she shares with Sharon Van Etten.
Spaltro has avoided the marginalizing label of singer-songwriter by fully incorporating her band into the sound of After. The spastic energy of ‘Hectic’ and droll kick of ‘Batter’ wouldn’t work as acoustic songs, but are full of life on After‘s recordings.