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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Love Language, Now With Less Fuzz

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There are many ways love can get you kicked in the shins. Stuart McLamb knows at least nine of them—one for each track on his 2009 album under the fitting moniker The Love Language. On that self-titled debut, McLamb chronicled his breakup and subsequent breaking down with some of the prettiest lo-fi jangle ever to shatter your heart at every turn. The album was written from the perspective of a man who has recovered from feeling horrible to feeling merely pretty bad.

It makes sense: The songs were written and hastily recorded to show McLamb's friends and ex-girlfriend that he was coming back from the brink. It was a brilliant formula, and one the native North Carolinian abandoned for his follow-up album. Last year's Libraries jettisoned the lo-fi aesthetic and was not a breakup album. What's left from The Love Language is a talent for warm melodies, and that's all McLamb needs.

That and a family photograph. McLamb is batting a thousand in putting old family pictures on the cover of his albums.

"I was putting together artwork for the first record," McLamb explains, "and I was going through different artists and working up different designs, but nothing fit the music. Then, I was looking through a scrapbook I found up in my parents' attic, and I found some imagery. There wasn't too much symbolism about it. It just felt right."

With that, a psychedelicized vintage picture of his aunt became the cover of The Love Language.

"I felt like Libraries was more of a record that should have a big smile on the cover," he continues, "so I went with a photo of my mom."

McLamb swears that the family motif was an accident, and that the next cover will go in the exact opposite direction—"A drunk guy passed out on the sidewalk," he says with a laugh—but the familial album art seems only fitting. The Love Language invited listeners close enough to McLamb's personal life that they should be able to sift through his private scrapbooks, and though Libraries was a substantially less personal album, it was far from an impersonal one. Both albums reported on real-world love, and neither will leave anyone unaffected.

The albums were written at different moments, McLamb says, but the music "still all felt like it came from the same mental period."

Anguish, apparently, is a retappable resource—which might as well be considered a good thing. McLamb is most comfortable writing about love and he is surprisingly comfortable sharing something so private as The Love Language.

"It's not like I'm giving out my address on the record," he says.

He may be treading similar ground on The Love Language and Libraries, but he is doing so in different shoes. Libraries is a much bigger album, with horns and strings and production that goes beyond the high-school-era multitrack recorder that documented his debut. He no longer tries to mask downbeat emotions with upbeat songs, but as McLamb says, the "core of each album is the same." There is the same attention to melody, perhaps even more so now that McLamb can toy with sounds not deliberately obscured with fuzz. The subject matter is still the same, and The Love Language moniker still fits.

The Love Language headlines an 8 p.m. bill at Linneman's Riverwest Inn on Thursday, March 3, with Blessed Feathers.
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