Over the course of some sixteen years and six remarkable albums, The Ladybug Transistor have confirmed their standing as the preeminent exponents of lush, formalist pop music. With a superlative new record, Clutching Stems, at the ready, their pursuit of a singular musical vision remains as true as ever.
Formed in the mid-1990s around Brooklyn native Gary Olson's collaborations with friends, they released Marlborough Farms (1995) named for their now-renowned Flatbush headquarters and Beverley Atonale (1997). From these somewhat ad hoc beginnings, The Ladybug Transistor soon developed into a full-fledged outfit, Olson's distinctive measured baritone augmented by the multi-instrumental talents of San Fadyl, Julia Rydholm, Sasha Bell, and siblings Jeff and Jennifer Baron.
The group's growing confidence and ambition can be traced through their subsequent three albums: The Albemarle Sound (1999), which was hailed as "the last great pop album of the century"; Argyle Heir (2001); and The Ladybug Transistor (2003). Their penchant for classic pop remained, but the band had gradually forsaken their baroque, even psychedelic origins for a more expansive, timeless sound.
By this time, Jennifer Baron had left the band and Bell soon followed. For Can't Wait Another Day (2007), welcomed into the fold in their stead were Kyle Forester (who is also in Crystal Stilts) and Ben Crum. The result was a fuller sound and an occasionally darker edge to The Ladybug Transistor.
Shortly after the completion of Can't Wait Another Day, however-before the album was released-the band was confronted with the tragic loss of longtime drummer San Fadyl, who died suddenly as the result of an asthma attack. For a time, the idea of continuing without their beloved friend seemed unthinkable. Eventually, though, the band quietly gathered new recruits – Mark Dzula, Eric Farber and Michael O'Neill (who is also in MEN with J.D. Samson) – and embarked on writing a new album with Fadyl's memory squarely in mind.
The resulting effort is their forthcoming release Clutching Stems, a stunning collection of potent refrains and brought-to-one's-knees ballads. As ever, Olson is in fine form; here, his lyrics compel, detailing an overarching search to find one's voice in the face of moments that knock the wind and words right out of a person. These are stories of humbling heartbreak, profound longing, undoing distress, nagging regret, and coming-of-age awakenings-all set to invigorated pop arrangements featuring backing vocals by Frida Eklund. The new Ladybug line-up has found its own distinct vernacular that honours diverse influences and the band's own precedent sound.
Clutching Stems assuredly underlines that while love can tear things apart, it can also capably mend them together once more. And, in doing so, it reminds us again of the band's magic: The Ladybug Transistor make music that is somehow both modern and timeless, universal and yet theirs alone.
Dieciséis años después de la publicación de su primer disco, que se dice pronto, ojo, es digno de elogio que The Ladybug Transistor, tras esa injusta etiqueta de simples artesanos del pop que parece querer rebajar sus logros, aun tengan cosas que decir. “Clutching Stems” es la prueba, un disco que reinventa la fórmula de los de Brooklyn al arropar su coqueto cancionero de inspiración sixties con guiños a los grupos británicos de los ochenta de más pedigrí y acabado preciosista. La sombra de Felt, House Of Love y The Bluebells, entre otros, es evidente a lo largo de todo el álbum, teniendo su cumbre en las guitarras cristalinas de canciones enormes como “Light On The Narrow Gauge”, “Fallen And Falling”, “Breaking Up On The Beat” y “Ignore The Bell” (esta última con guiño final al “Gypsy” de Fleetwood Mac”). Difícilmente se podrán quitar otra de las etiquetas que les persiguen, la de banda de culto, pero desde luego que este “Clutching Stems” deja bien a las claras que la banda capitaneada por Gary Olson es mucho más que una simple factoría de buenas canciones. Aquí, además de eso, hay emoción y un toque único. (MondoSonoro)
Translation: 16 years after the publication of their first disc, really, it is commendable that the Ladybug Transistor, after that unjust label of simple pop craftsmen that seem to want to diminish their achievements, still have things to say. “Clutching Stems” is the proof, an album that reinvents the Brooklynites formula of wrapping its charming singer in sixties-inspired material with hints of British 80’s groups of higher pedigree and more precious finish. The shadow of Felt, House of Love, and the Bluebells, among others, is evident throughout the album, with its peak in the crystalline guitars of great songs like “Light on the Narrow Gauge,” “Fallen and Falling,” “Breaking Up on the Beat,” and “Ignore the Bell” (this last one with a final nod to “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac”). It will be difficult to shed another of the labels that dog them, that of cult band, but of course “Clutching Stems” makes perfectly clear that the band led by Gary Olson is much more than a simple factory of good songs. Here, besides that, is excitement and a unique touch. (MondoSonoro)