“I’M ALIVE!!”. That’s what Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s splendid second set After has stamped through its core. Just like a stick of rock. In bright red ink. In capitals. Ooh and with at least two exclamation marks. It positively radiates with all the conflicting intensities that walking the streets of this mad, mad world brings. It’s like slipping on the supernatural spectacles from Carpenter’s They Live but instead of seeing besuited skeletons armies and creeping corporate coercion you’ll see strange new wonder in the oddest of places. Milk duds. Laundry. Dinosaurs. Trains. Ravenous wolves. Grandparents. Pyramids. The Solar System. Coffee, clouds and cakes. In here…magic happens.
“Have I been asleep this whole damn time?”. Aly Spaltro is awake and riding a crazy train of discovery. Her ‘Lady Lamb’ cool jams cross the footprints of free spirits like Laura Marling, Fiona Apple, and Jeff Buckley whilst reciting Raymond Carver-esque vivid vignettes of curiosity and confusion. But there’s plenty of mischievous off-roading too. Bloody opener “Vena Cava” débuts as a jazzy, soft swinger but at its heart it’s a stomping, glam rock howler. “Like a bullet in the barrel of a gun / I’m hiding here inside for someone,” it bellows with both threat and promise. Recent single “Billions of Eyes” rattles with rousing rockabilly, shimmying twirl, Wurlitzers, and sunkissed “Dudududur!” harmonies. “I just want to fall into a pile of warm laundry.” Adrenalised and ‘Tigger’ bouncy but dive below the surftastic surface and its depths are littered with exhumed corpses, devil’s claws and wide eyes gawping at our surreal, wacky world. Early highlight “Violet Clementine” is similarly disorientating. Imagine a showtune from A Nightmare Before Christmas blended with a bizarro, old-time nursery rhyme spinning on a loop. First played as an American Gothic, ‘banjo hoedown’, then as tripped-out, heads-down, mantra before bursting into a full-on theatrical, Sgt. Pepper’s military bonanza. Insanely infectious, admirably ambitious. Later, the whirling butterfly hearts inside “Heretic” appear like Feist fronting the Pixies in sunny July. On pay day. Instantly whistleable with a rollercoaster chorus, it’s a rollicking rally for the disenfranchised and defiant, “Let’s learn about black holes / Unplug the television set / If you’re a heretic then so am I / Here! / Here! / Heretic!.”
After ain’t one for wasting light but the delicately blue “Sunday Shoes” allows sighs in the shade. With echoes of Jeff Buckley serenading Sin-é it’s close-up and captivating. A last lament for a hero who takes a fall… and is subsequently ravaged ‘n’ savaged by wolves. But in Lady Lamb’s world even being eaten alive is a moment of magnificence as they’ll “Kiss on all your bones” and though your parents’ll weep, when you get to Heaven “You will become your most favourite colour”. It’s beautifully haunting albeit in a scarred childhood, Watership Down way. Like touring buddy Neko Case, Spaltro pens a cracking nature tale. The brooding brass and hopscotch skips of Fiona Apple-ish, fever dreamer “Spat Out Spit” contemplates our inner animal, living feral in the woods, “Snarling on all fours”. It’s Buckley’s spirit though that passes through After‘s halls again during the rolling, tidal rock of “Dear Arkansas Daughter”, “While you were asleep I was surely awake”. With ripples of Grace‘s swan song “Dream Brother”, Lamb becomes a Joan of Arc warrior whose “Blood is full of swords”. As throughout, “Daughter” simmers with evocative imagery “To the ocean floor I will sink / Like a steel chest full of weapons.”
It’s not all gore and spitting though, there’s waves of wit and wisecracks splashed across After too. “Penny Licks” is an uplifting groover seemingly about societal straitjackets. Folks pine for “Stable tables” whilst keeping a watchful eye on their eggs and trying to ‘Jedi-mind trick’ tollkeepers, “You should pay us a compliment like ‘You have lovely eyes’.” Midway through the streets are invaded by placard waving protestors, “We do not wish to make a baby! We were not made to build this city up!” they chant, fists aloft. Bonkers but brilliant. Elsewhere, the fuzzy, glitterstomp “Batter” finds its unlucky narrator perishing in a plane crash as their family, oblivious to their demise, bake a delicious birthday cake at home. “Don’t let your demons / Take you to the cleaners” it concludes. Heartbreaking and hilarious in under three minutes? Ping! Later the childhood camaraderie, “Melting milk duds” and “Dripping brains” fondly cherished in “Milk Duds” prove equally endearing, “I’d never loved another person more than I loved you.” Seriously it’d take a frosty, dead heart not to glow and melt before After.
Spaltro walks this line between adolescent abandon and worldly wisdom with great skill. It’s the crushing clarity of “Ten” that cuts deepest though. Spaltro, solo with a six-string recalls days gone by; keeping geckos for pets, first loves, Halloween candy, nightswimming, “The season’s first snow” and imagining “Having your brains in the body of a whale.” She shares her mother’s sepia portrait of the “Eagle with a fish in its mouth” before the memories fade with the crushing “There’s a sweetness in us that lives long past the dust on our eyes once our eyes finally close.” Here comes the tears. Luckily, curtain closer “Atlas” graciously sews up our shattered hearts before calling time. “I want to swim the length of this life with you” it cries from the other side of eternity. One glorious, giddy last dash up the mountain. “I know where I come from,” exhales Spaltro as a headrush of sweeping strings drift us elegantly back to reality.
Lady Lamb’s After is a life-loving, life-affirming treasure. Twelve songs of innocence and experience from beyond the realm of the senses. A consistently entertaining hour that fizzes with effervescent, energetic childlike wonder but also grounded with solid, sometimes cryptic, ‘Grandmother-smart’ foundations. Whatever horrors your real life’s enduring, give After a shot. The skies will be bluer. The sun’s embrace warmer. The bird’s song sweeter. Honestly, it’ll save you a bloody fortune on psychiatrist’s bills.