It starts with a lone voice that’s soon met by a wobbling lo-frequency bass note. The sung message is simple, offering a contrary message: “So much to say/I’m lost for words”. It’s intimate, like eavesdropping on private thoughts, until it opens out into a chorus that positively glows out of the speakers. It’s like blinking your way into bright sunlight; walking from basement to beach in a split second, a match struck alight in darkness. The return of Lamb is a bright, shining beautiful thing.
The Secret Of Letting Go - Lamb’s seventh album - is all about the space between sounds. At times sublime and celestial, at others a swirl like a desert sand storm the music offers a launch platform on which Lou Rhodes’ superlunary voice can take flight. At times, the sound that Lou and musical partner Andy Barlow create is quietly evocative of sun-drenched horizons - contemplative and reflective, as on opener Phosphorus and the album’s final track - One Hand Clapping - a divine piece of music with all the radiance of a high summer sunset. At others its itchy and anticipatory, pointing towards moments of ecstatic abandon, like on the album’s first single - the brooding, building, boiling over Armageddon Waits and the dervish spinning, cyclonic Deep Delirium. And occasionally, it’s a quake - a whomping bass tone that seems to move through your very bones as on the album’s title track and Bulletproof, a track where the bottom end seems to be burrowing its way out of the track.
Lamb’s studio encounters have been sporadic since the duo - Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow - ended their post-millennium hiatus to record the album 5. The Secret Of Letting Go came together after a period of time that saw the band touring their classic self-titled 1996 debut album in full for the first time ever as well as Lou working on her forth solo album (theyesandeye) and Andy producing other artists.
Lou: “When new ideas that could grow into Lamb songs emerge from one of us, we send them between each other. Our solo work is a very different process from writing with Lamb; over the years we’ve learned that Lamb songs only work if we bring together our most stripped-back ideas and work from there, leaving as much space for each other’s input. It’s a strange form of alchemy; throwing together roughly hewn rocks of ideas and watching them take shape with the sheer friction caused when the two of us pull those ideas between us. The first track - Illumina - came early on in the summer of 2016 and our next writing session was the tail-end of 2017 in Brighton followed by a block of time out in Goa early 2018. In effect that was the true beginning of the process of writing and a lot of the ideas flowed from there.”
Revisiting each of the tracks for 1996’s Lamb for a series of sold-out live shows would prove influential during the writing process for The Secret Of Letting Go. Having to recreate that debut album’s sparseness for the stage helped to direct them when writing their seventh album two decades later.
“The experience of playing the whole of the first album live again had a big effect on things. Many of the songs had never, or very rarely, been played outside of the studio until that tour and it was quite a journey to literally breathe new life into them again and realise they could sound as fresh now as they did back then. We’ve always felt very proud of that album in the way that it’s stood the test of time and we really wanted to keep alive the basic premise that that record, that ‘less is more’, in the way we approached the new record.”
For a record that uses the space between sounds so incredibly well, it’s no surprise that the record came together where the land meets the sea and the horizon opens out - albeit in the two very different climates of summer in the south of England and the balmy, clear winter months in Western India. At first, the idea of working in Goa was initially anathema to Lou.
“I had serious misgivings about working in an environment like that. I guess Northern roots tied me to the idea that you need a bit of grit in the oyster shell to make a pearl; I thought a tropical paradise would inspire really bland music. The truth of the matter is, though, that there’s something about the atmosphere here that really allows people to open up creatively and hooks you in to a deeper experience of being. Over the years we’ve become a part of a community of people who spend much of the winter living and working in this place. It’s a pretty quiet community, steering clear of much of the cliché that people associate with this region of India. If you’re thinking trance music, hippies and psychotropic substances that’s quite a way down the road from where we’re at.”
Back in not quite so sunny Brighton, a fraught point in writing sessions managed to bring about the album’s title track - a gorgeous and odd piece of claustrophobic, elasticated sound that constantly shifts its time signatures underneath Lou’s voice.
“The Secret Of Letting Go came about after one of our many creative bust-ups. I won’t go into the detail of this particular argument but we came to a point where we were considering jacking the whole thing in. It wasn’t the first time we’d come to that place and it probably won’t be the last but, for the hell of it, we decided that we’d go into separate rooms and write something without hearing what the other was doing (a bit like that game when you draw something on a piece of paper and then fold it over and pass it to the next person to draw the next bit). We then brought our ideas back into the studio and kinda threw them against each other, like those rocks I talked about earlier. The result describes the very process that made it. The lyrics are expressing my anger at Andy for constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone and his musical input defies even tempo limitations until the lush strings in the mid section bring a sense of beautiful liberation and elation.”
Whatever happened during that musical game of ‘exquisite corpse’, it worked wonders, producing something that manages to be both discomfiting and elevating in the space of four minutes. It also points to the fact that it’s possible that for Lamb to work, those frustrations and that creative push and pull between Lou and Andy always needs to be there, somewhere near the heart of the music wherever in the world they might be working.
“The Secret Of Letting Go wasn’t the easiest album to make but it certainly feels like one of our strongest to date. I think by now we know that, although we often push each other’s sanity to the brink, we seem always to come through having learnt something. It’s a true brother/sister dynamic but they say blood’s thicker than water; music is our blood.”
So the secret’s out then. Keep on pushing to the brink of your friendship wherever in the world you might be - it might just result in your best work to date.