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The Love Language – Ruby Red

on July 22, 2013, 12:00am
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In the three years following The Love Language’s 2010 release, Libraries, we’ve heard scarcely a peep from the promising Raleigh, NC upstarts. And because indie rock years – like dog years – seem to travel about seven times as fast, the band’s hiatus begs a trio of questions: where’d they go, what’ve they been up to, and what’ve they got for us now?

Instead of playing every rock club in the contiguous 48, singer/songwriter Stuart McLamb took the road less traveled. He inched his way off the map, biding his time and toying with new sounds for The Love Language’s third album, Ruby Red. In McLamb’s own words, Ruby Red is “scrawled with lungs full of mountain air…and seasoned with the drawbars of a thrift store organ and tape echo.”

His reference to mountain air is traceable enough; after starting to record the LP at Ruby Red studios in Raleigh, McLamb sought refuge amongst the Red Spruces and Fraser Firs of the Black Mountains. Unfortunately, the singer’s remark about tape echo also rings true, as schmaltzy effects distort and bury his vocal melodies throughout the album.

Thanks to Merge Records’ plentiful resources, The Love Language tapped over 20 musicians to stack garish horns (“Hi Life”), twinkling glockenspiels (“For Izzy”), and gushy violins (“On Our Heels”) atop their emotionalist pop ditties. But rather than enhancing Ruby Red, these orchestral gimmicks weigh down and clutter the album. Only closing number “Pilot Light” coheres these jostling components of string, brass, and percussion into a musical arc.

Libraries had The Love Language advancing from scratchy lo-fi to a deft and manicured sound. But Ruby Red goes too far, abandoning raw verve for a wall of sound that’s somehow both hollow and stifling. Although punchy, vindictive standouts “First Shot” and “Faithbreaker” do manage to elucidate some tender scar tissue, The Love Language would be wise to look back to their earlier offerings, lest they fall victim to superfluity and excess.

Essential Tracks: “First Shot”, “Faithbreaker”

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