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The Love Language Outwardly Rejects Uniformity Throughout 'Baby Grand'

Baby Grand is a study of contrasts, as the Love Language's saccharine pop-sensibilities underscore affective lyrics while diverging with razor-sharp instrumentation.

Baby Grand
The Love Language

Merge

3 August 2018

It's been five years since we last heard from Stuart McLamb, or more commonly known as the man behind the indie rock band, the Love Language. Now based in Los Angeles, the Love Language's new album, Baby Grand, is composed of sincere emotionalism tinged with cacophonous hi-fi buoyancy. Baby Grand is a study of contrasts, as the Love Language's saccharine pop-sensibilities underscore affective lyrics while diverging with razor-sharp instrumentation. Often the contraposition falls flat, as the album lacks cohesion and resembles a musical patchwork. Regardless, Baby Grand succeeds overall as it takes the Love Language into new sonic territory.

Since the Love Language's inception, McLamb has demonstrated a penchant for breakup songs. Baby Grand begins with "Frames" which revisits McLamb's emotional processing and introspection of love gone awry. The track's fortitude establishes the foundation for the album's energy. Baby Grand is endowed with a furious and expeditious musicality that also aurally symbolizes the frenzy associated with turmoil. That repeats on the track "Shared Spaces" that echoes the album's theme of existential crisis. The vibrant synths add a layer of exuberance to experiencing "these emotions swing like days and nights oscillate".

"Castle in the Sky" is a reference to the idiom demarcating the impossibility of fulfilling some dreams. The track's rolling drum line evokes aural reminders of early Joy Division's post-punk discordance. But at its core, "Castle in the Sky" is an anti-love song. The track demonstrates that romance and intimacy aren't always synergistic even when you "cut it with a knife, with a knife / Buried between here and the afterlife." The Love Language cites a painful reminder that our reality is harsh and our visions are frequently unrealistic. "Castle in the Sky" illustrates that the fantasy of absolute love overshadowing the inevitable heartache.

But McLamb isn't wallowing and Baby Grand is never emotionally overwrought. Rather, his music and lyrics exhibit the polemics of human emotion and the extremism associated with vulnerability and change. As he makes clear in "Independence Day", "I just can't stop my mind / I can't concentrate / I saw right through your eyes / Oh honey, now that you've gone away / I'm a wreck." But the track's title suggests an acceptance of autonomy that's laborious though liberating. This proves that Baby Grand is more than unadulterated introspection. As reiterated by "Let Your Hair Down", the Love Language leans on the idiom to recentralize fun and emotional suturing despite one's dour disposition. Certainly, if the track's overt pop-danceability doesn't draw listeners in then the lyrics advocating for emotional abatement will: "brush off what's not under your skin / And never go back there again". It's always an important reminder to relinquish pain to keep progressing.

"Juiceboxx" is a joyful combination of synths, piano, and McLamb's falsetto. The piano's downbeat combined with the percussion gives the track a visceral quality that's hard to ignore. The track in itself is a throwback to the 2000s synth and falsetto focused indie rock in the manner of Passion Pit or Grizzly Bear. But for McLamb there is something more subversive about his vocal pitch. The falsetto and combination of emotive lyrics demonstrate McLamb's fluidity with the gender expectations of male singers. His falsetto echoes the sentimentalism while his vulnerability and strength are interchangeable.

Baby Grand is at times discombobulated as it moves from danceable energy to some tracks resembling dirges. For example, "Southern Doldrums'" slow tempo aurally represents the malaise but then the track features these bursts of energy that seem misaligned. Whereas the tempo shift is ear-catching, the track lacks a focal point. Likewise, the dissonance on "New Amsterdam" is catchy yet distracting in its emphasis on reverberation. McLamb repeats the lyrics "everything" and "come back" for more than 15 times adding a layer of chaos to an already evident musical pandemonium. Yet the final track "Glassy", gives the album a sense of arrival and peacefulness. The twangy vibes endow "Glassy" with a distinct sense of country-folk placidity. Each track on Baby Grand is so outlandishly different, they resemble individual art pieces rather than a systematic album.

The album's insufficient cohesion is indeed unnerving more often than not. However, it is arguable that this reflects McLamb's own sense of brokenness or the Love Language's attempt at illustrating his itinerant period. To his credit, McLamb outwardly rejects uniformity throughout Baby Grand thereby showcasing his creative ability. Thus, Baby Grand stands as a marker of his musical inventiveness.

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