What Sound

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Still one of the most inventive groups in electronica, Lamb continued pushing the boundaries of singer/songwriter drum'n'bass three albums in, and also came to grips with a few of the growing pains of their sophomore album. Even while Andy Barlow's productions again set a gold standard for ambitious, evocative, intelligent accompaniment, Louise Rhodes' vocals have improved noticeably since the occasionally over-reaching Fear of Fours. Yes, her crying, confessional style of delivery can still wear (especially for a genre never overly enthusiastic about vocals to begin with), but she's obviously gained in control without sacrificing intensity. The opener, "What Sound," begins with a set of tender love lyrics, gradually expanding with orchestral strings and Barlow's tight, stop-time production. The paranoid breaks of "One" give way to a downright extroverted performance on "Sweet," though Rhodes saves her most pained vocals for the very next track, "I Cry." Barlow scorches on the Chemicals-style breaks and furious turntablism of "Scratch Bass," but then comes right back with a pair of beautiful ballads directed inwards. He's also unafraid to keep the backing (relatively) simple, even on the single "Gabriel." It's clear that every beat, every effect has been labored over, but thankfully that impression is an unconscious one. Another nice touch: the admirably low-profile appearances by excellent musicians like Arto Lindsay on guitar, Me'Shell NdegéOcello on bass, and Michael Franti on vocals. If there were any doubters about Lamb being the brightest, most talented singer/producer combo in electronica, What Sound is all the argument needed to the contrary.

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