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Ladybug Transistor

Our critics' picks in new releases


If you cross Brooklyn's Prospect Park from the yuppie enclave of Park Slope and head into the heart of Walt Whitman's borough, a strange thing happens on the way to Flatbush. Past a few blocks of your typical chain-link playgrounds and modernist-drab apartment buildings, one hits Prospect Park South, a magical neighborhood of turn-of-the-century houses with spiraling turrets, grand balconies, stained-glass bay windows, and well-kept lawns. It's utterly out of place, an old-New York thrift store of a neighborhood in a Caribbean stew of immigrant working-class families; but it's where Ladybug Transistor creates its latter-day psychedelic pop, dreamily crafted in a home studio fondly known as Marlborough Farms.

This group is as beautiful as they sound, beautiful all around--seven cute boys and girls in vintage clothing playing flutes and violins, trumpets and oboes, farfisa organ and mellotron over ringing guitars and lightly pulsating drums. The music is lush and soothing, a swirl of paisley amid the asphalt, tenements, and high rises. If argyle was one of the fabrics in which the Zombies, the Left Banke, and other lesser-known '60s orchestral-pop groups managed to costume rock's rawer sounds, Ladybug Transistor is indeed the argyle heir.

But groovy, man, like, wow, beautiful, as they might seem at first, Ladybug Transistor is not simply a fuzzy nostalgia trip of a band. As with Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish group that also concocts breathlessly gorgeous music from rock's decadent echo-chamber closet of the past, Ladybug Transistor creates bona fide songs on Argyle Heir, not just retreads of yesteryear's innocent music-box lullabies. The group reinvests '60s orchestral pop with a sense of intrigue, powerfully evoking the Victorian parlor room of the soul this sort of music has always sought to enter.

Argyle Heir welcomes a listener into its many nooks and crannies, oddly-shaped corners and gilded foyers. Sit down here, say the tremolo guitar chords and trilling organ figures elegantly lacing through the pretty, graceful twirls of "Perfect for Shattering." Have a cup of tea in the kitchen, the spooky "Catherine Elizabeth" suggests, with a bit of moonlight coming through her velvet curtain of a melody. Soon, you feel like you've been in this place for a hundred years, and want to stay for a hundred more. "Words Hang in the Air" after stories of distant voyages to California ("Nico Norte") and short jaunts around New York ("Brighton Bound").

Let us talk of fantastical things, the trumpet, harpsichord, and sleigh bells on "Fjords of Winter" demand. Or things close by, "In a Certain Place" and "The Glass Pane" add, observing the warm glow of the musical fire reflecting off the windows. Shall we go for a walk on the grounds, out by the old graveyard, "Caton Gardens" beckons with its flute? Or should we return again to that room in the attic, the album's other songs seem to ask, among the doilies and dolls, the musty first editions and cobwebbed antiquarian reproductions?

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