Whenever or wherever you're reading this, whether the day it's published or long after people have stopped putting newspapers to newsprint, whether in Bombay or in Burlington, some kid somewhere in the world will be sitting alone in his bedroom, recording a song he's just finished. By "some kid," I mean, you know, a thousand kids across the world, at once, singing a thousand different songs about the same few situations—finding love, losing love, going broke, making mistakes. And even if you spent the rest of your life trying, you'll never hear most of these songs, and that's OK: Some of them are terrible. Some of them are nothing special. And, unless a record label or publishing company or ego intercedes, even the best of them will likely be scrapped, lost by morning like a forgotten dream.
The Love Language—a nine-track collection of bustling soul-pop songs—was crafted solo by Stuart McLamb under the name The Love Language after he ended his rock band, headed west for a girl, broke up with said girl, and returned to Raleigh to live with his parents and work a service job. McLamb wrote and recorded these post-split laments—built on lines about girls who've gone away and drugs that have gone down—alone in a practice space with borrowed or cheap equipment, playing all the instruments (save a lone tambourine and one drum track) himself. Such pedestrian origins are appealing, since they suggest that you or any of your friends could have made this record after your last breakup.
But you didn't, and there's more to the recent buzz over The Love Language than backstory, anyway: From the staggering piano march "Manteo" to the shimmying guitar twister "Lalita," McLamb's best songs snag the ear instantly, sporting hooks alloyed from worn rhythm & blues records, country & western standards and the grandiose indie rock that's been vogue this decade. What's more, McLamb's production approach—low-budget and low-fidelity, where the vocals overload the microphone and the pianos, guitars and drums swirl into a unified blur—gives the same-story, different-album topics a nostalgic warmth. Think of this as a beloved old soul record onto which the turntable's needle has scratched its own notes and meanings.
Both in mythology and music, The Love Language feels like a springtime counterpart to For Emma, Forever Ago, a break-up-and-retreat album released to great acclaim by former Raleigh resident Justin Vernon as Bon Iver in 2007. Candidly recorded but carefully edited, both records find the sore spot left by love and deal with the damage in different ways: Language trades Emma's core of wintry defeat for one of sunny defense, where elegies and apologies become anthems and outcries. For Emma was music for hunkering down, for trying to convince oneself to overcome some amorous difficulty; Language is music for lashing out, for telling love it's a selfish, cruel and destructive device. In the end, both records are potentially addictive.
McLamb's writing stands tall beneath the simple jangle. In fact, these songs reflect the tortured romance of The Mountain Goats' Tallahassee, where a pair of doomed lovers strangle each other with frazzles of emotion, booze, firearms and a general atmosphere of catastrophe threatening to blow both their respective lives into bits. McLamb writes with an eye for detail, too, pointing out the ex-lover who sits on the dirty floor on a stack of stolen records, or how her love is "just the salt in your eye." These songs are about McLamb's own life, and his singing reflects that intimate immediacy. "These white lies only left me wasted," McLamb howls over his own harmonies on "Sparxxx," the album's brilliant, breathless centerpiece. "And now I'm running out of time/ But I don't want to wait/ So just blow me away, out like a birthday candle." He hurls his feelings onto tape, making a great big tuneful (if distorted) mess, always as unpolished as it is at times undeniable.
For that, The Love Language feels like the sort of album that could have been made 30 years ago or could be made 30 years from now by another jilted lover locking himself in his bedroom. By extension, of course, it's not particularly revolutionary or revelatory. It's just a 25-year-old with a broken heart and a hangover writing songs good enough to make you care.