Release Date: Jun 7, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
For 15 years, the name Ladybug Transistor on the front of an album has been like a trademark of quality, and anyone buying one would be assured of wonderfully rich and emotional pop songs, intricately layered production, and a general feeling of radiant joy that comes from experiencing music that’s pure and true. Through member changes, fads coming and going, tragedy, and renewal; the vision of Gary Olson has remained steady, and on the band’s seventh album, Clutching Stems, it shows no signs of flagging. In fact, the album may rank right up there with The Albemarle Sound as their finest, most fully realized work.
For the most part, the Ladybug Transistor has flown under the radar for its 16 years of existence. Frontman Gary Olson, with a cycling group of musicians, has quietly crafted some excellent pop records. And though words like "baroque" and "sweet" are often used in descriptions of the band's sound, you can't dismiss the Ladybug Transistor as some fangless, saccharin pop act.
A member of the Ladybug Transistor appears only once in Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, 2009's wonderfully engaging oral history of the North Carolina label. It's a candid photo of a party during Merge's 10th anniversary festivities, in 1999, and keyboard player Sasha Bell, who also plays and sings with Elephant Six-affiliated labelmates the Essex Green, stands among more than a dozen other revelers. She's facing away from the camera.
The Ladybug Transistor haven’t always crafted the perfect picture of coherency with their sometimes shambolic albums, but they’ve always had a remarkable knack for knocking out enjoyable indie pop. Clutching Stems doesn’t hit the highs some of the band’s albums have, but it features some added-in coherency that quite helps the album along. This aside, Clutching Stems does sometimes border on the boring, the mundane.
There’s a song that comes halfway through the Ladybug Transistor’s seventh and most recent album, Clutching Stems, called “Oh Christina” that’s noteworthy as it contains lyrical snippets of other songs referencing past artists. On the song, front man Gary Olson sings “It was not me who would believe that love would tear us apart”. That, of course, would be a reference to Joy Division.