Published Aug 01, 2018After his humble but ambitious debut (recorded on a four-track by himself) caught the ear of Merge Records in 2009, Raleigh, NC-based indie musician Stuart McLamb has released two albums, upping the fidelity and scope of his sound with each, and 2018's Baby Grand finds him more comfortable than ever with his more fully realized sound.
McLamb has his own take on things, but psych and shoegaze probably remain the best labels for his work, with echoing synth washes often eating up the spectrum. There's even a bit of airy, funk-lite thrown in from time to time — "Juiceboxx" is a good example of this, sounding how MGMT might today if they'd continued their more straightforward indie pop trajectory.
And Baby Grand certainly is catchy; centrepiece track "Independence Day" is a huge triumph in this regard, utilizing perfectly the cavernous production style that has now become McLamb's trademark to highlight its memorable vocal melody. "Southern Doldrums" is also noteworthy: with a soaring vocal over minimal percussion, it shows McLamb is able to dial back the drive without compromising his massive sound.
It's an approach that works just as well with more propulsive tracks. "New Amsterdam" and "Castle In the Sky" rock to good effect. There's an especially great moment in the former when McLamb's delivery of the word "everything" shifts suddenly from a vocal line to a hypnotic rhythmic element as the synths wash over and the drums pound on; it's a worthy snapshot of the album's sound.
On the topic of sound, fans who lamented McLamb's departure from his original lo-fi approach may chafe at the status quo he's arrived at, production-wise, but frankly, it's what his songs deserve. Baby Grand is a wide-screen, psych-pop gem that continues to realize his potential in rewarding ways. (Merge)