As The Love Language, Stuart McLamb strengths have always been his knack for production and penchant for heartache—mixing and matching genres for his grand, indie-pop arrangements. An album of reflection, Baby Grand is no different, with McLamb using a breakup and a move west as the jumping off points for his latest offering of songs.
The album opens with rumbling distortion and an explosion of frenetic euphoria, as “Frames” drops you right into McLamb’s signature bulldozer-of-sound production style; the cascading glockenspiel-like noises and crashing drums introducing us to McLamb’s first goodbye: “She’s gone back to the city / She’s gone half the world away.” Alternating between this monstrous sound and the much-quieter verses, “Frames” provides the framework for the rest of the album, offering the standard-for-break-up-songs moments of reflection, but also catalysts for the equally important act of release.
It’s the next track, “New Amsterdam,” that best encapsulates the latter mood. Reverby, echoey and fucking loud and its fullest, it presents a churning wall of sound for McLamb to slam around in as he searches through his memories. “Good morning / It’s raining / I hate how you drain me” he rails at the top of the last verse, creating the perfectly crystallized moment for screaming along in your car as you slam your hands on the steering wheel. “Castle In The Sky” starts out with just McLamb and an acoustic guitar, before jolting into high gear with thunderous, rapid-fire drums, up-to-11 guitars and even some organ.
“Southern Doldrums” slows it down and strips it back, introducing us to the quieter side of the album; a low drone and dreamy harmonies lending more focus to McLamb’s musings. Lyrically McLamb holds his own, failing to reach the level of transcendent yet relatable insight and emotional expression that the best break-up songs offer, but still skillfully side-stepping cliche while offering the complexity of feeling that the ending of real-life relationships require. A shining moment from “Independence Day”: “Oh honey / Now that you’ve gone away / Well I’m a wreck / But I’m finally losing weight.”
The album’s two moods meet right in the middle for the shimmering, melancholy dance-pop of “Shared Spaces,” the existential-crisis-under-flashing-strobe-lights vibe an echo of the smooth-glide yacht-rock of the earlier “Juiceboxx.” And while the album ends with the Cosmic American Music-flavored “Glassy,” it’s “Let Your Hair Down” that leaves the last impression. Beachy, breezy, and definitely Brian Wilson-inspired, you can hear McLamb’s recent move to the west coast in the song’s gentle sway and golden light. “I awoke with a knot in my chest / The size of Los Angeles,” he sings over gentle, stretched-out washes of sound which indicate quite the opposite, the sun-dappled piano outro letting us know that McLamb just might be ok.