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The Ladybug Transistor: Argyle Heir


The Ladybug Transistor

Album: Argyle Heir
Label: Merge

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Pastoral pop from Brooklyn has never sounded less contradictory than in the hands of The Ladybug Transistor. Drawing from a variety of '60s pop sources, the group doesn't so much follow its influences' examples as create variations on their themes. What starts as a relatively straightforward song might evolve into a mini-suite, with the group's modest, pleasing sound keeping any potential indulgences in check. Continuing in the vein of 1999's The Albemarle Sound, Argyle Heir offers sun-drenched, intricately arranged pop with a pleasant approachability that masks its ambition. Only lead singer Gary Olson's occasional vocal resemblance to labelmate Stephin Merritt on a few tracks suggests darker undertones. The Essex Green shares both a philosophy and a couple of members with Ladybug, but Up The Country, recorded under the name The Sixth Great Lake, tilts toward a different set of predecessors, as signaled by a cover of The Band's "Rockin' Chair." Loose and rootsy, The Sixth Great Lake finds its influences at the end of the '60s, when Dylan, The Band, The Grateful Dead, and others helped put their own spin on traditional American music. If the group doesn't quite sustain the experiment over the course of Up The Country's 15 tracks, it scares up enough highlights to justify the diversion—particularly the album-opening "Duck Pond," with its unselfconscious use of outdated hipster lingo. That nice touch pops up throughout the album, allowing the band to display affection, and a bit of yearning, for a time when the statement "So we shared a cosmic talk" wouldn't have provoked instant laughter. Like The Ladybug Transistor, The Sixth Great Lake employs the best kind of recycling, finding new uses for old material whose value couldn't have been fully realized the first time around.