The Ladybug Transistor
"The Ladybug Transistor"
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The adventurous Brooklyn five have packed their bags full of sunscreen and pop masterpieces and headed west for the dusty sunsets of Arizona. There, in collaboration with producer Craig Schumacher, they have fashioned their fifth , and most gloriously consistent , album. Less psych-folk than previous works, the new album is lush, unhurried, and beautifully arranged. Vocally, Gary Olson's warm baritone and Sasha Bell’s angelic naivete playfully intermingle, the results of which are sentimental, charming, and downright dreamy. It’s all sun-drenched, wholesome electric pianos, trumpets, strings, and brown Telecasters. And honestly, what more could one desire in one’s life?
1) These Days In Flames
2) In December
4) Song for the Ending Day
5) Choking on Air
6) The Places You'll Call Home
8) Please Don't Be Long
9) NY - San Anton
10) Hangin' On the Line
11) A Burial at Sea
12) Splendor in the Grass
13) The Last Gent
by pop music, yet it's rare to find full albums packed solid
with irresistible, brain-picking hooks, melodies so catchy you can identify
the exact note or syllable that addicts you. How I Learned to Write Backwards
is the rare exception. Never merely "nice" or "fun,"
Amy Linton's songs are chiseled like diamonds, and set to some of the
ever taped in somebody's basement.
and lighter on the guitars than the Aislers Set's first two
indie quintet becomes a pop orchestra. The band's music is denser
than ever before, laden with sleigh bells, handclaps and horns piled atop
the conventional guitars, drums, bass and keyboards-- and all are drenched
in cavernous reverb, providing the ambiance and intimacy of a gigantic,
empty concert hall. And yet, this is also a noise-pop band: Beneath
the layers of instrumentation, the music is propped up on barbed wire,
unsteady and ready to topple.
are short: The single, "Missions Bells", is one of the few to
two minutes, and "Langour in the Balcony" seems to end before
started. And the band cuts quickly from one influence to the nextthe
gingerbread candy house of "The Train #1" runs into the rumbling
on "The Train #2"; the massive, verbose pop of "Attraction
balances the spooky-bleak voice and barely-the-will-to-strum guitar
on "Unfinished Paintings". The noise makes the pop spark, and
influence makes the nervous energy digestible. Linton mixes and paces
all of these elements flawlessly, but what's more, the engineering is
extraordinary for its budget, carefully crafted but fun and spontaneous
problem is Linton's singing. It's not that she's not a great singer (well,
maybe partly)-- the issue is how she records her voice. On almost every
track, she Spectorizes herself in oblivion with effects and reverb added
to, presumably, lend a distant and dreamy effect. Sometimes it works (the
late-night loneliness on "Unfinished Paintings" is poignant),
but at other times, she sounds completely displaced. The most unfortunate
example of this comes on the album's closer, "Melody Not Malaise",
where the band is recorded with minimal post-production trickery while
Linton is mixed far too low beneath the instrumentation, and reverbed
into the stratosphere. Maybe she's not happy with how her voice or words
sound unaided, but I'd rather be given the opportunity to connect to them
than be left guessing.
may be How I Learned to Write Backwards' only shortcoming, and
when stacked up against such effortless, finely-crafted pop tracks, it
almost seems trivial. These songs are blanketed in a magnetic charisma,
and contain a vigor and effortlessness that projects youthful vitality
and a joyousness unhampered by looming adult concerns. It's pure fun--
insanely, immediately likable, and ingenious in how much it achieves.
ó Chris Dahlen
"Finishing School got 8 out of 10, Ladybug Transistor got 9 out of 10.
“Where Neutral Milk Hotel sometimes sounds like the school orchestra from hell that has had an enormous amount of bad liquor and Beatles’ "I am the Walrus”, Ladybug Transistor still sounds innocent. When I met them for the first time at Belle & Sebastian’s Bowlie Weekender last spring I had to touch Sasha Bell to make sure that her elf-like creature wasn’t an illusion.”
Thorbj√∂rn Thors√©n, Benno #4, Januari 2000.
When the quote above was written Ladybug Transistor from New York had released three records “The Albemarle Sound” was the latest and it was so soft, so hopelessly frail and blue-eyed that you couldn’t help but – just as the author – being amazed by its gentleness.
Sasha Bell looked, and still looks, just like an elf and yes, she sang, and still sings, like an angel. Today, her first solo album under the name Finishing School is just out, but where is the innocence? Well, in a time when even Britney Spears smokes and makes out in the street also the angels are falling. To a place where innocence is neither worth striving for or welcome.
“Destination Girl” opens with Sasha, with just her pride and her name left, takes the train to Reno. Leaves Marlborough Road but not her history. Sasha solo refines the characteristics she’s shown as a part of Essex Green and Ladybug Transistor. The result may – not very surprisingly, maybe – extremely sixties influenced folk pop with beautifully orchestrated melodies. In “Rowan’s Theme” she shamelessly rips off early Byrds, and while she’s at it she borrows Love’s strings, while a song like “Hair” has a much darker tone ad more sounds like something Velvet Underground could have made if they had been teleported back from 1967. Never has her light voice sounded better, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Ladybug Transistor weren’t too bad themselves, Finishing School would have been as good a reason as any to question why Sasha Bell would need her other bands for.
But now Ladybug Transistor are doing quite well too. Even if they leave New York already in the album title, which for the first time in five records don’t have any reference to the Brooklyn blocks that are the home of the band. If the Finishing School is solely Sasha Bell’s project, then “Ladybug
Transistor” is Gary Olson’s album. He only shares the microphone twice; eleven of the thirteen songs are his, and never have Ladybug Transistor sounded so thoroughly worked out and played so well.
Olson still holds on to Carpenters’ and – maybe first of all – Bacharach’s hands, but are just as much folk rock as soft pop nowadays. Sometimes, as in “Choking on Air”, the rhythm even breathes of jazz, or as in “The Places You’ll Call Home”, where Sasha actually sings, you can feel a darkness and a drama that you’ve never heard from these light-hearted flower children before.
The romantic, with its innocence, which had pop writers to wide-eyed touch Sasha Bell, has died down. Turned to ashes and carbon. Underneath it, there’s something completely different – something better. A band that doesn’t have to be protected at all costs anymore.
Ladybug Transistor, and Sasha Bell, have finally left the safe home quarters of Brooklyn. The fall of 2003 there are no limits to how far they can go. " Sonic (#13, fall 2003), Swedish music magazine
"The Ladybug Transistor are a dying breed when it comes to musicianship these days. Somewhat like America's version of Belle & Sebastian, The Ladybug Transistor compose and perform delicate yet rocking songs suitable for a tea party on some clean blotter. Their latest offering, the self-titled The Ladybug Transistor exists at the crossroads of indie/alt-rock and music your parents might dig! Gary Olson's soothing baritone makes you feel like you're in one hell of a cool elevator. Soothing in the aspects that many kids probably won't find appealing until they hit their mid to late twenties. The Ladybug Transistor's music can best be described as music for people who can read... well. 'Choking On Air' sounds like New Pornographers material, only with that tasteful Ladybug Transistor edge to the pop-appeal. Keeping things close, Olson recruited brother and sister duo Jeff and Jennifer Baron to handle duties on guitar and bass, with San Fadyl on drums and Sasha Bell rounding off the line-up on keyboards and vocals, The Ladybug Transistor's classic pop arrangements take on a modern technique that is unique during an era where 'indie' clones are a dime a dozen and everyone's parents' garage also happens to be their 'practice space'. God speed The Ladybug Transistor." Gordon Downs, www.guerillaone.com
"The Southwest, with its soft colors and spare, beautiful deserts has been
an alluring getaway for artists overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of
urban life, from Georgia O'Keefe to indie rockers The Handsome Family,
Calexico, and Giant Sand. The Ladybug Transistor chose to record their
latest album at Tucson's Wavelab Studios, and the Brooklyn bands journey
Tucson follows some significant changes in its eight year history,
massive success in Europe and the departure of longtime member Jennifer
Baron. It's no wonder the albums recurring themes include travel, the
future, and renewal.
Singer - trumpeter Gary Olson's wonderfully rich baritone sentimentally
recalls a surreal journey to London, India, and the Spanish coast in the
lush masterpiece "In December" The songs elaborate orchestral
reminiscent of Burt Bacharach and could easily pass as a black and white
film score. In "3 = Wild" the band contemplates "pack[ing] the cards
fold[ing] the table and escaping. This somber folk piece is similar to
Parsons' heartbreaking ballads. "Song for the Ending Day" has a charming,
slightly loungey feel to it. The trumpet and Sasha Bell's back up vocals
particular recall the Spanish pop group Le Mans.
Bell sings lead on a few of the songs. The best being "The Places You'll
Call Home", an upbeat song that explores the prospect of of the future of
"all the people and the places and the color of things". "Hangin on the
Line" is slightly new wavy and sounds like it could be a lost Vaselines
song. "Splendor in the Grass" and "A Burial at Sea" are strong folk
the latter an especially magnificent Byrds-esque gem that features some
finger-picking and harmonies.
The Ladybug Transistor's sojourn to New Mexico proved fruitful. It's
songwriting is polished, it successfully explores new different sounds,
it's thoughtful lyrics gives us a glimpse into the the ups and downs of
band's experience traveling the world. The Ladybug Transistor is open to
change and with this flexible and inquisitive nature it should have no
problem putting out a steady succession of interesting albums in the
future." Venus Magazine Fall 2003 - Karen Choy
"9 (out of 10)
Every so often you have to let go of your hardcore tendencies and wallow in
some soothing pop. And here's that bouncy, orchestral delight at it's best.
When Sasha Bell and Gary Olson harmonize, it feels like they've just taken
your heart, rolled it in a Phillie, and smoked it on a Sunday afternoon.
Like a less quirky, more serious Magnetic Fields with a smattering of twang,
they are absolute trumpet, organ, tambourine, and sunshine-in-meadows
goodness. It's no wonder they all live on some perfect commune out in
-Joy Wang" Vice Magazine, Vol 10 issue 3, October 2003
"For a band bred in Brooklyn, the Ladybug Transistor is as sun-kissed as a
chorus of "California Dreamin.' " The chamber-pop quartet doesn't so much
give a nod to sunny '60s pop as a full-on wink. Their music can recall Yo La
Tengo (in brighter days) or even Belle & Sebastian, but on its new, self-
titled album, the band keeps the organs humming, the big horns blaring, and
the tambourines shaking. It all makes for an album that is indie pop's ideal
summer soundtrack, even when released, curiously, at the start of fall. Plus,
they let their best-kept secret -- Sasha Bell on vocals -- shine on a few
tracks. As a lead singer, Gary Olson manages to sound both droll and dandy,
and the effect is charming. The intimate, twangy treatment of "3=Wild" sounds
like a live set from the loneliest honky-tonk in Texas (or in this case,
Tucson, where the band recorded the album with Craig Schumacher). Bell takes
over on "The Places You'll Call Home," which is easily the album's high point
with brisk guitar accompaniment and Bell's pitch-perfect delivery. A cover of
Jackie DeShannon's "Splendor in the Grass" is a natural fit as the band melds
homogeneous harmonies over layers of punchy drums, guitars, and a languid
pedal steel guitar undercurrent. Themes of forlorn travel and a quest for
home dominate "The Ladybug Transistor"; ultimately, it feels as though the
band never finds it, but the ride there is half the fun. " James Reed - Boston Globe
"The Ladybug Transistor is the rarest gem in the New York rock landscape. For
the past 10 years or so, the band has quietly put out grandiose, layered and
perfectly arranged orchestral pop. Mind you, these musicians -- attractive,
young and talented -- have never graced the cover of The Fader, or took part
in Fashion Week, or dated celebrities. Sure, they were a part of the whole
Elephant 6 thing, if only in name, and they have dabbled in side projects,
such as the excellent Essex Green, and you may recognize their tune in a
Citibank commercial. But no one stopped the presses.
The Ladybug Transistor, the band's fourth full-length, will probably not get
them the accolades and attention they deserve. It is nevertheless a giant
leap forward for the band. Whereas all of Ladybug's previous records had a
home-recorded feel, cultivated in frontman Gary Olson's Brooklyn-area
Marlborough Farms recording studio, The Ladybug Transistor was recorded in
Tuscon with Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Giant Sand). This new input is
present in every element of the record: the drumbeats are crisper, the vocals
are at the forefront, and the band sounds more confident than ever.
In fact, with The Ladybug Transistor, Gary Olson and Co. are starting to
sound even more like their friends and contemporaries Belle and Sebastian,
but in the good ways. The trumpet comes in at the perfect time on "Hangin' On
the Line," the keyboards are all over the place, and there's more vocal
gender mix-up. Ladybug vocalist Sasha Bell could out-sing ex-B&S chanteuse
Isobell Campbell any day, and she proves it with the stunning album
centerpiece "The Places You'll Call Home." Olson croons confidently
throughout the record, and with "These Days in Flames," "In December"
and "The Last Gent," he has churned out his finest work to date.
The album includes guest spots from various Merge Records artists, from Paul
Niehaus (Lambchop, Calexico) on pedal steel to Dennis Cronin (Lambchop) on
trumpet, which only adds to the accomplishment that this album is for the
band. They even add a perfect and suitable cover of "Splendor in the Grass"
by singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon. This is Ladybug at its most mature;
The Ladybug Transistor provides an excellent starting point for new fans to
backtrack through the excellent catalogue of one of New York's finest bands.
- Kevin Dolak" Prefixmag.com
"For their last few albums, The Ladybug Transistor have been moving toward a heavily insulated (if not downright tranquilized) folk-rock sound -- the sort of thing I, for one, associate with "beautiful music" radio stations, lingering headaches, Sunday afternoon trips to stores that sell garden statuary, and yellowing photographs of relatives wearing the sort of luridly plaid clothing people only ever seem to wear in yellowing photographs. If you can't divine the compliment in that sentence, I'll explain it in less eccentric terms: the group's dense arrangements achieve an impressive stillness. So tightly do the songs wrap around you, and so thoroughly do they block out other sensory input, that you'll swear the music was written for you alone.
That's why The Ladybug Transistor is something of an about-face for the group. For the first time, they've gone outside their Marlborough Farms compound, putting recording duties in the capable hands of Wavelab Studios' Craig Schumacher. With a "middleman" between band and listener, the aforementioned one-to-one connection loses a bit of its intensity, as if the group has taken a half-step backward and is now content to linger in the outer reaches of your personal space. Lest you misunderstand, this is not a failure but a sign of artistic maturity; like the clingy girlfriend/boyfriend who wakes up one morning and discovers self-confidence, Gary Olson and his bandmates have realized that we'll pay attention to them even if they don't get all cloying on us (though in all fairness, they did cloying really well). It's fitting, then, that The Ladybug Transistor have waited until now to release a self-titled album. The Ladybug Transistor is a veritable reboot.
Ladybug frontman Gary Olson is still a crooner. In an age when most indie bands pursue unaffectedness to a fault, he teeters on the edge of lounge singer parody, and because The Ladybug Transistor's production has backed off of the whole Huge Wet-Blankety Arms Wrapping Around You immersiveness and weapons-grade reverb thing, his performance sticks out a little bit more this time around. He goes over the top in a few places -- I noticed it in "NY - San Anton" and the over-enunciated, Jim Ruiz-haunted "Choking on Air" -- but it's not unpleasant; you may simply wonder where the sincere emoting ends and the Brooklyn hipster irony kicks in. Or perhaps it's just the incongruity of hearing such a big voice coming out of such a lanky guy. Sasha Bell tackles lead vocals on "The Places You'll Call Home" and "Hangin' on the Line", and her intriguingly nasal delivery suggests a handful of sixties icons, Nico included. "Hangin' on the Line" offers a particular challenge: it's the album's most vigorous tune, more conventionally upbeat and "rocking" than most of the group's material, and riddled with unusual rhythmic switches. If you're not thrown by the chorus's initially unpredictable turns, it's because Bell has you hooked.
Musically, The Ladybug Transistor is par for the band's multi-instrumental course -- it's jam-packed with keyboards, strings and horns, and violin, cello and pedal steel enhance a handful of songs. Sometimes this works against the group; Olson's vocals notwithstanding, the sleepy, pedal-steel-accented "3=Wild" sounds like too many other songs on too many other relatively current albums (I can already see myself overusing the phrase "ubiquitous pedal steel" in the coming months). Otherwise, Ladybug Transistor deliver on our heightened expectations. We know they're capable of something more than the standard guitar/bass/drums troika, and they prove us right -- but with admirable restraint. Nothing here sounds like an instrumental stunt.
Lyrically, the group still strives for a mix of bookish profundity and emotional shorthand; if you're lucky enough to derive deeper meaning from these lyrics (it's likely to be a right-place, right-time thing), you'll think Olson and his cohorts are brilliant. There are a few "what the fuck" moments, like "Song for the Ending Day"'s woodsy opening lines ("It could take a year to climb all the hills in the Catskills"), but the album's obligatory cover -- Jackie DeShannon's florid "Splendor in the Grass" -- is a timely reminder of what truly ham-fisted prose sounds like ("The first time I was ever kissed / the very first person I did miss").
The Ladybug Transistor's relative lack of instrumental bravado suggests renewed confidence; the group doesn't make an obvious attempt to hook us with atmosphere or instrumental stunts, because the album already has enough going on to keep us listening. They are still capable of brilliance, but no longer pursue it so doggedly. They entertain us, because they (and we) know they can. Like the album cover's smooth, clean lines (another break with Ladybug tradition), their songs have been relieved of clutter and baggage and needless filigree, leaving the best and purest ideas to flourish. It's an important step for a band poised on the edge of great success -- and a decisive move beyond the limitations of yellowing photos and barbituate-friendly folk-rock.
-- George Zahora" Splendid E-zine
It's easy to dismiss the Ladybug Transistor as just another prototypically sweet-faced, baroque-inclined indie pop ensemble-- or, if you're feeling charitable, an indie pop ensemble with unusually delicate arrangements and impressive longevity. But the band's careful mastery of pop precision and 60s bubblegum swells demands a far more thorough assessment (even if it winds up leading to an inevitable Neil-Diamond-by-way-of-Crooked-Fingers comparison). Since their 1996 debut, Marlborough Farms, The Ladybug Transistor have wed lush, rolling melodies to oddly somber lyrics, folding in a barnyard full of sounds (baritone harmonica, keyboards, flute, organs, flitting chamber-pop strings, horns, 12-string guitar, and the soft, sliding background vocals of keyboardist Sasha Bell) and crafting a perfectly orchestrated whole.
Frontman Gary Olsen's voice-- a deep, steady warble as smooth as wet, worn pebbles, and just as cold and gray-- is so expertly controlled that it often borders on unnerving. But he'll switch gears unexpectedly, too, as easily forcing out a jolly, disembodied coo, taunting and sinister, the perfect, chuckling counterpoint to whatever shit in your universe is currently falling apart. Like the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, Olsen's lauded for his songwriting prowess more often than his creepy pipes, but the remnants of both are guaranteed to stick around long after the record has been shelved.
It might seem odd that The Ladybug Transistor waited until their unceremonious fifth studio album to go all eponymous, but it's an appropriate concession given the circumstances: The Ladybug Transistor, recorded in Tucson last spring with producer Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Neko Case), is the band's first album not recorded at Olsen's Brooklyn-based Malborough Farms studio. The relocation, however, hasn't had much of an impact on their sound: their influences (see: The Left Banke, The Smiths) and their collaborative spirit remain at the fore, with noteworthy contributions from Calexico's Paul Niehaus (on pedal steel) and Lambchop's Dennis Cronin (trumpet).
Opener "These Days in Flames" pits a textured, upbeat piano and guitar melody against some unpredictably explicit laments: "Every time it rains/ I'm running to my window/ To stare out at the same thing/ And cry." "3 = Wild" is a bit more forthcoming with its melancholy-- its slow, meandering vocal melody ("Joked about the burns on your neck/ Laughed, our bodies in smoke") drift in and out of pedal steel whines and shivering tambourines. Much like Olsen's vocals, the instrumentation here is always impeccably rendered, each shift meticulously planned, every component expertly placed, each note purred in pitch-perfect harmony.
Consequently, The Ladybug Transistor might initially seem disarmingly untouchable here, their unfaltering movements too tweaked and controlled to ever be entirely accessible to folks in plain clothes. But there's an undercurrent of darkness on this record-- particularly in Olsen's on-the-verge voice and lyrics-- that ultimately prevents the band from ever wheeling too far out of reach.
-Amanda Petrusich, October 9th, 2003" Pitchfork Media
"THE LADYBUG TRANSISTOR
by Astrid Harders
What happens when you're faced with the prospect of your fifth album and decide to leave your home studio headquarters for the first time? For the Ladybug Transistor, a great record happened. This is friendly, layered and meticulously crafted pop with lots and lots of flair. I haven't really listened to what this Velvet Underground/Pulp male voice is saying; all I know is that tambourines, keyboard-flooded choruses and sporadic rock & roll guitars have never sounded this right together. The trumpets, cellos and male-female vocals undeniably make this a pleasant listen, an exciting alternative to hyper-melodic Britpop and somehow a classy vintage form of entertainment. My goodness, right there, the track numbered with a six, "The Places You'll Call Home," has just made my day, my week, my musical hopes fly higher; somebody give this band a useful award. This shall now be the album I call home. It's a nice feeling; you should try it out.
by Astrid Harders" Boston Weekly Dig
"by Gerald Hamm
Ladybug Transistor has delivered their baroque pop masterpiece. Their new, self-titled album is a far more upbeat serving than their last full-length, 2001's "Argyle Heir," and in general a new vitality flows throughout this richly textured release. Taking a recording holiday away from their Marlborough Farms studio in Brooklyn, the group traveled west to Tucson and enlisted Calexico/Giant Sand producer Craig Schumaker for the knob turning. Gary Olson's baritone voice is honey-thick as ever, supported by the skilled band plus several auxiliary players including Lambchop trumpeter Dennis Cronin and Lambchop/Calexico contributor Paul Niehaus on the pedal steel. During "In December," guitar, piano and trumpet trade countermelodies as Olson documents a romantic travelogue winding from London to India, while instrumentally, the music makes lilting twists and turns with soaring strings and cinematic breaks. Sasha Bell steps to the center mic for a few tracks, "The Places You Call Home" and "Hangin' On the Line," her voice providing a sweet counterbalance to Olson's deeper croon.
Most bands would kill for the consistent quality of songs that Ladybug Transistor has offered with their releases, but impressively, their fifth album is undoubtedly their best and most varied collection to date." Other Music
"Fly Away From Home
The Ladybug Transistor's time in Tucson yields an outstanding album.
By ANNIE HOLUB
The Ladybug Transistor
When it came time for the Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor to put out a new record, the idea of recording yet again at their home studio just didn't feel right.
"We had done that too many times, I guess," said Ladybug Transistor founding father and guitarist Gary Olson. "We were looking for something new, and we thought by getting outside of New York it might help us focus a little bit on getting things done a little faster."
So they packed their bags, and the songs they'd been perfecting over the last year or so, and came to Tucson to record at Wavelab Studios with Craig Schumaker.
"When we record stuff in our own studio, it tends to drag on a bit sometimes," explained Olson. "It never gets finished, because we always have the option of doing more. So we wanted to have a limited amount of time and figured Tucson would be a really nice place to go, especially in the middle of the winter. We heard a bunch of stuff that Craig had done, and we really liked the way that it sounded, because we were looking to do something different but not a complete change. We wanted to work with somebody else, and we figured Craig would be a natural choice because of how his records sound."
After a few weeks at Wavelab in March, the triumvirate songwriting team of Olson, Jeff Baron (guitar) and Sasha Bell (keyboards), along with drummer San Fadyl and bassist Julia Rydholm, produced the self-titled The Ladybug Transistor (Merge), the band's fifth studio record.
True to the shimmering '60s-inspired pop on their past records, The Ladybug Transistor takes off with a flourish and spins through 13 songs played on 12-string guitars, keyboards, strings and horns. The Ladybug Transistor sounds smoother than the band's previous efforts; every song expands on a melody, with Olson's gentle vibrato and Bell's soothing lilt easing the songs to a crescendo with a dramatic, nostalgic tone--more like old two-lane highways through a small southern town than the grid pattern below Prospect Park, which is where Marlborough Farms is located.
"Our albums in the past have all been neighborhood related, they're all named after streets in our area--Argyle, Beverly, Marlborough, Albemarle--they're all streets that are within a few blocks of our studio," said Olson. "We really love the neighborhood around here. Just walking around is inspirational--there are all these big houses and trees and cars just going by and you kind of hear that reference on lot of the earlier album lyrics. √Č We've been doing a lot of touring together over the past few years, so the newer songs have more of a travel theme."
The songs on The Ladybug Transistor talk of other places, of London, San Antonio, Virginia; of the difficulties of leaving and the excitement of being in a new place.
"Pack the cards, fold the table, roll the clock, blow the candle, before I am tired," sings Olson on "3=Wild," as guest musician Paul Niehaus of Lambchop and Calexico plays the pedal steel, "We're leaving town."
"On the morning train I watch your face grow warm, you want more of the sun," sings Bell on "The Places You'll Call Home." "But at this altitude we are melting here and there's little I can do, so today we say good-bye, and I'll see you in a month's time."
The dimensions of The Ladybug Transistor's songs come in part from the instrumentation and in part from the fact that three different members write songs.
"It adds sort of a creative dynamic, to have three songwriters," said Bell. "We show up with pretty finished songs, but then we fine-tune them as a group, and Gary writes a lot of the lyrics to the songs, so he's adding that. ... I think it adds a richness to it, to have three separate people coming in with different songs and then sort of adding to that; it adds patina, makes them one cohesive piece."
"Somehow, on this (record), it worked out really well, I think it's fairly consistent," said Olson. "Whereas some of our other ones were a little bit more all over the place. ... I think that the three of us do share common basic ideas of where the songs go, or where they should be going."
1999's The Albemarle Sound (Merge) garnered The Ladybug Transistor all kinds of critical acclaim with their "pastoral pop"; Magnet said of 2001's The Argyle Heir (Merge), "Imagine a place where grown men and women aren't afraid to roll sideways down hills and play on the teeter-totter." But The Ladybug Transistor is the band's best record yet; the fact that it's self-titled, and not named after a certain place, indicates that the band is moving beyond its insular neighborhood and out into the larger world. And they have Tucson to thank for that.
"It would have been strange to give (the record) a desert-type name," said Olson. "And also we had been through a lot of changing. It kinda has felt like a new start or new direction, so, I just wanted to sort of leave it open. It's not actually anything about being reborn or anything, or starting over, but it is kind of a fresh start, a new (path), and also there are some other records sort of mid-career records that are self-titled, like Metallica, the Beatles--they all did self-titled records later on. I thought that was kind of cool."
"Just being in Tucson, being out in the Southwest ... we had a really hard winter here, super cold, terrible weather, we were all feeling like we had the blues, then we go out to Tucson--it was a complete reversal," said Bell. "And Craig, he was our biggest cheerleader, our father, our engineer--he was just great in so many ways; he worked so hard, so being around him was a complete pleasure."
"It was nice, first of all, to be in a completely different environment where all we really had to do was think about was music for a finite period of time," said Rydholm. "When we record here it can really be drawn out over a really extended period of time; it might be interrupted with people going to work and then coming in at night, after being tired, in a completely different head space. It was just nice to have a time that was like a working holiday--it was sort of like a workshop where you're exclusively there to think about one thing."
"We were ready for the first time to do a record in the studio--we did a lot of preparation before this one," said Olson. "In the past, we may have had more of a germ of an idea, the basic idea for a song and we'd start recording it right away, it was always done in bits and pieces, whereas for this one we got together ... for about a month and worked out all the songs from top to bottom, ironed them out. √Č We figured this was the first time we'd be going into the studio and actually have a true plan, or more of a plan."
Added Rydholm, "It was nice to be able to walk around outside in a skirt and a T-shirt instead of being all bundled up in dreary New York. I think it really invigorated our focus."
That focus shows everywhere on The Ladybug Transistor; the songs meander within themselves, filling every possible inch with parts and layers. On "Please Don't Be Long," Bell's Cajun-style keyboards and Olson and Baron's guitar parts switch off in a jazz-style solo showcase. Dennis Cronin of Lambchop lends his trumpet to "Choking on Air," "NY- San Anton" and "Hangin' on the Line"; on the latter, as Bell sings "we wander, we wander," the instruments ironically swirl together. The strings courtesy of Michael Fan, Nelzimar Nevins and Julia Rydholm, combined with guitars and keyboards on the last song, "The Last Gent," leave you wanting more, as if you've been hypnotized by unearthly musical sprites.
Which hardly seems unlikely with a band like The Ladybug Transistor: "Way up the green above the tree line, we sat on the rock ledge, and with their instruments they played a melody," sings Olson on "Song for the Ending Day."" Tucson Weekly - Article
"With a librarian's determination, the Ladybug Transistor collects scraps of pop's past and present only to rearrange them neatly on their wonderful new self-titled set. Sixties-style guitars and orchestration meet indie rock's disinterested vocals and uncomplicated rhythms. Add a gloss of horns, keyboards and strings and there emerges a sound so altogether obvious and effortless, it becomes new and irresistible. Like the Magnetic Fields, this quintet plays with an easygoing slickness as Gary Olson's choirboy, monotonic croon splits the vocals with Sasha Bell's lazy but candied alto. They trade unnerving, puzzling portraits of life's pedestrian moments. "On the morning train I watch your face grow warm/but at this altitude we are melting here, and there's little I can do," sings Bell on the motherly "The Places You Call Home." On this their fourth effort, the Brooklyn band is as head-bopping as it is head-scratching -- a charming, cryptic and contemporary collection of familiarity. (BENJAMIN FRIEDLAND)" Rolling Stone Magazine
"Merge Records has long been defined more by ideas than any particular sound or feel to the music released by its artists. Unlike Ian MacKaye‚Äôs Dischord, Merge has not focused exclusively on local bands, nor does it feature a shared musical approach. Superchunk‚Äôs Mac and Laura instead have fostered a broad ‚Äúcommunity‚ÄĚ consisting of bands they like, which could mean a local upstart or the new record from the Buzzcocks. Merge has (justifiably) been praised for years, producing some classic records and maintaining a level of quality such that you could safely buy a Merge record without knowing a thing about the band. But the label was often defined more by what it wasn‚Äôt than what it was.
This has begun to change slightly, though not because of a drop in quality or some kind of aesthetic doldrums. Rather, a group of bands on the roster have quietly built up a sound based around pop classicism, able musicianship, and a post-modern sense of disjunction and inclusion. Bands like the Essex Green, Matt Suggs, newcomers the Rosebuds, and the Ladybug Transistor have, more or less accidentally, finally created a ‚ÄúMerge sound‚ÄĚ, although it is typically idiosyncratic and hard to place. The forefathers of this sound, the Ladybug Transistor, have been quietly honing their lush, formalist pop for years in a sleepy Brooklyn neighborhood. Located just south of Prospect Park, it‚Äôs a slightly faded, dated area of creaky Victorian homes and stately apartment buildings, timeless in a forgotten way. Seemingly miles away from the noise and flash of Manhattan, it‚Äôs a place that could exist almost anywhere, at any time in the last thirty years. Almost nothing here betrays change or ‚Äúprogress‚ÄĚ, and although it is distinctly urban, it betrays few of the trappings that we‚Äôve grown accustomed to in our consumer-oriented cities. As such, it‚Äôs the perfect place to make music or write, a place so immediately dull that it becomes slightly thrilling, a blank slate rather than an information-saturated labyrinth. You can be or make anything you want here, and that would seem to suit the Ladybug Transistor perfectly.
Although shamelessly eclectic and retro in their references, the Transistor are not pumping life into dead music or ripping off their forebears. They do make use of certain sounds and strategies employed by the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker, et al., but they primarily return to these sources for a deeper philosophical inspiration. ‚ÄúThe Places You‚Äôll Call Home‚ÄĚ is a fine example of the Ladybug Transistor‚Äôs ability to effortlessly channel a feeling or a perspective, rather than a particular sound. Although the refrain‚Äôs lyrics feature a tip to the Velvets, the song is a perfect distillation of everything that was sharp, intelligent, and musically sophisticated about British pop, from the Kinks to Walker to early Bowie. It‚Äôs a cool, precise song whose melodic flourishes and vocal restraint hint at a much deeper emotional life below the song‚Äôs surface.
Although keyboardist Sasha Bell sings lead on ‚ÄúThe Places You‚Äôll Call Home‚ÄĚ, the majority of songwriting and singing belongs to founding member Gary Olson, whose even baritone gives the often bouncy songs a tugging undertow. Olson does not possess a naturalistic vocal style; he sings in a very considered, somewhat self-conscious way, giving the songs a rather fascinating self-awareness. The band both seamlessly inhabits their sounds and stands outside of it, using its various elements to very specific ends.
If labelmates the Essex Green are the Jefferson Airplane, then the Ladybug Transistor are the Mamas and the Papas, a group defined by its bond as a unit and an obsession with place. Travel, long-distance relationships, and the outdoors are recurring lyrical themes, and although the band writes in its house in Brooklyn, they wisely decamped to Arizona for the album‚Äôs recording. This fairly extreme change of locale seems to have given the band a greater sense of energy than on previous albums, a focused and understated swagger, rather than the politeness which occasionally marred their earlier work. Here, the harmonies and surging melodies feel natural and completely spontaneous, pop as a relaxed outpouring of sound.
If there is a ‚ÄúMerge sound‚ÄĚ, it is, like all other ‚Äúsounds‚ÄĚ before it, highly subjective and ephemeral. It may speak of the larger influence that Merge bands are having, or it may simply be a coincidence. The Ladybug Transistor have been around long enough to transcend such qualifications, and they have a sureness about them that places them beyond mere replicators of influence. Smart, slightly romantic, witty and self-aware, the songs on this record exist on their own terms, intent on creating their own pop myths and resonances. Holed up in their Brooklyn digs, the band probably could care less about any talk of ‚Äúsounds‚ÄĚ or scenes, or what their exact references might be. Rather, they will, it would seem, continue to live in their own, remote part of the city, scoring music to their particular and very personal imaginations.
By Jason Dungan" Dusted Magazine
"Enduring Brooklyn collective fills its songwriting lungs with Arizona air.
Anyone disappointed by Belle and Sebastian's lumpy new album should lift their heads from their Isobel Campbell pillowcases, dry their eyes and investigate The Ladybug Transistor's fifth album. Anchored by the conversational, David Berman-like voice of frontman Gary Olson, these richly arranged songs are delicate without being twee, enthralled by future-facing polo-necked '60's pop yet too alert to the wonders of modern life to be sucked into the over-reverent airlock inhabited by The High Llamas. Recorded in Tucson with Giant Sand associate Craig Schumacher and guest musicians from Lambchop, the Jim O'Rourke twang of A Burial at Sea or the trumpet- shiny sophistication of NY-San Anton highlight the quintet's lyrical grace, a band who understand the difference between elegantly world-weary and just plain tired.
- Victoria Segal " Mojo January 2004
"**** (Out of five)
Joyous 60's-tinged pop from New York Quartet
Brooklyn's Ladybug Transistor have taken the brave step of recording their fifth album outside their Marlborough Farms retreat. The result is a sort of glorious record Greenwich Village Beatniks would make if they'd been hibernating for 40 years. Gary Olson's smooth, mannered vocals catch the ear immediately: "I can't wait for this day to begin" he sings with the air of a lovestruck teenager, and you're with him all the way. But it' s the delicate instrumentation that wins you over. Having ditched synthesisers, muted trumpets and sparkling piano give tracks like In December the bright sheen of a sunny winter's day.
Martin O'Gorman" Q Magazine January 2004
"A rush of '60's summertime brightens the sky every time I listen to this gorgeous record. On rollercoasters of harmonies and rolling pianos, without succumbing to fey discomforts, this album revitalises pop's joie de vivre. Graduates of the indie circuit, Brooklyn band The Ladybug Transistor lift West Coast perfect pop, nuzzle the Southern sounds of alt country, embrace East Coast arch-ness and infuse all with burlesque bravado. The bands four albums to date, all baroque arrangement and wide-eyed melody, have made dents on the international indie scene. Album five deserves to make a deep impact.
Rarely does a New York band sound so joyous, elation oozing from the Belle & Sebastian flip-kick of the keyboards, the butter wouldn't melt harmonies, the pomp and bombast of the brass. Gary Olson's velveteen vocals bring to mind Stephen Malkmus doing a Scott Walker swagger, rounding the tunes with seductive assurance.
There are four exceptional tracks. Song For The Ending Day is the best, pitching Olson as seductive guide: "go and figure out what you want and what it's about...you'll find it. Close by are the Sasha Bell-sung track The Places You'll Call Home, paying dues to love and the charms of city life, and the sweet piano swell of Gospel. NY-San Anton, a tale charting a move from city to coast, cannot fail to force a smile; it's a song the Thrills would eat their own livers to write.
By Jude Rodgers" The Word - January 2004
"Fifth album of sumptuous orchestral pop
For those fragile days when The Magnetic Fields seem too harsh, The Ladybug Transistor await, An intelligent, sensitive and no doubt impeccably dressed five-piece, TLT are the last word in well-crafted pleasantness. Songs saunter contentedly along, equal parts butterscotch and benevolence, living in a gentle, pastoral 60's that never really existed. `3 = Wild' could be Lambchop preparing for a camping trip while `A Burial at Sea' and `Choking on Air' casually sketch the missing link between Burt Bacharach and Stephin Merrit. You do yearn for a hint of red meat but TLT are a quiet delight.
Ian Watson" NME January 2004
"**** (out of five)
Five Albums in, The TLT hit paydirt. Swapping their traditional Brooklyn
studio for Craig (Calexico) Schumacher's one, Gary Olson's low-slung croon -
a latter-day Edwyn Collins rolls across their most adventurous pop-baroque
melodies yet. With Lambchop contributors Paul Niehaus (steel) and Dennis
Cronin plumping the pillowy layers of strings, Staxy horns and chugging
organs, it's like Belle and Sebastian slopping sorbet with early Jonathan
Richman. Cherry on top is Sasha Bell's delicious turn on "The Places You'll
Rob Hughes" Uncut - February 2004
"The fifth album from The Ladybug Transistor is a beautifully produced, (by Craig Schumacher of Calexico fame) lush, pop record that follows in the tradition of bands such as, The Beach Boys and The Divine Comedy. Like all the best pop this record conjures images of summer sun and transports the listener to a timeless epoch that remains strangely indefinable. Lambchop‚Äôs Paul Niehaus (pedal steel) and Dennis Cronin (trumpet) make guest appearances as if to cement the quality that is on offer here. Opening tracks ‚ÄėThese Days in Flames‚Äô and ‚ÄėIn December‚Äô are both upbeat pop songs that leave you feeling glad to be alive. ‚Äė3-Wild‚Äô then deepens the mood a little bit with its mournful pedal steel. ‚ÄėSong for the Ending Day‚Äô follows and is surely the most beautiful song of the year so far! ‚ÄėThe places you Call Home‚Äô is another highlight of the album with its female lead vocal and stomping groove. At this point, it becomes apparent that Gary Olson can write beautiful pop songs in his sleep. The real achievement of the record lies in the arrangements and instrumentation used. Whereas many a songwriter of Olson‚Äôs talent would express everything via guitar, The Ladybug Transistor uses trumpet, strings and keyboards thus keeping the whole package subtle and enticing. Songs such as ‚ÄėPlease Don‚Äôt Be Late‚Äô sound as if they could have been recorded at any time during the past thirty years yet still retain a fresh sound and original edge. This record encapsulates what pop music should be about. Songs are mostly around the three minute mark, and not one track out of the thirteen overstays its welcome. If 2003 was the year of the excellent but completely unoriginal Thrills, then 2004 should belong to The Ladybug Transistor. DW " americana-uk.com
"Open this CD and find a big, churchy pipe organ on the left and palm trees in sepia tone on the right. On the back, there's a row of people in t-shirts and shorts tossing stones into an azure lake. Taken together they provide clues to the mood behind this slab of pop classicism in the vein of Lee Hazelwood, the Housemartins or a far less twee Belle & Sebastian. You'll hear farfisa, tambourines, lilting horns and warm voices singing slippery, booky words. There's a jangly cover of Jackie DeShannon's "Splendor in the Grass" that blends well with the rest of their own thick, artful compositions. Leader Gary Olson, who can sound like a Brill Building regular or a bubbly Lou Reed depending on tempos, handles most of the vocals. However, the head-and-shoulders standout in the bunch is Sasha Bell‚Äôs singing on "The Places You'll Call Home" which carries you off like a kiss blown with care. In time, one hopes to hear Bell take the reins more often as she's an underused secret weapon in their arsenal. Recording outside their usual haunt this time, the Arizona climate and Calexico producer Craig Schumacher agree with them producing something as strong as their bedroom majestic albums of the late '90s.