The origin story of The Love Language reads a lot like the Bon Iver script. At least at first. A Raleigh-based singer-songwriter loses his band and his girlfriend in short succession, hits rock bottom, writes an album about it, and winds up with a record deal and a new lease on life. The key difference is that — rather than scampering up to Wisconsin to record ghostly folk ballads in some hermit's cabin — The Love Language's Stuart McLamb dug in his heels in North Carolina, channeling his frustrations into a clog-stomping ode to the healing powers of pop.
The Love Language's self-titled 2009 debut — propelled by the addictive single "Lalita" — quickly drew the attention of North Carolina's pre-eminent indie label Merge, which inked McLamb and released his band's follow-up, Libraries, a year later. Now, with his third album in the can and due for release this summer, McLamb, 31, is eager to take The Love Language to new heights while evolving beyond those heartbroken roots.
"I'm definitely excited about this one," he says via phone from Raleigh. "I really wanted to break the mold of the idea of what The Love Language was. I think in the past, there was sort of a '60s-pop stamp that was usually put on it, along with a focus on all the breakup-themed songs. And that was probably accurate with the first record and some of the second record. But I never wanted to limit this project to just being lovelorn tunes with a bunch of tambourines and diminished chords or whatever. So we really stretched it out on this record."
Working with his five-piece touring band as well as a collection of skilled guest musicians from throughout Raleigh and Chapel Hill, McLamb was able to zone in on just about any creative impulse he had, leading the songs into everything from "a Talking Heads vibe" to "Britpop," "garage rock," and "Isaac Hayes funk."
"It's really all over the place, for sure," McLamb says, "but when we did the sequencing, I think we found a way for each song to kind of flow into the next one, so that it's definitely more cohesive than jarring."
The as-yet untitled record—which McLamb confided should be out in late June—also breaks into new lyrical territory. So while his breakup songs were never short on a clever turn of phrase ("Some fools rush in / Some fools just wait / I never had the heart to tell her / So I had to have the heart to break"), it's safe to say McLamb is tackling some considerably heavier themes this time around.
"There's a lot of death and rebirth," he says. "Sort of anticipating humans being on the cusp of ... something. Something changing — whether it's Armageddon in December or some new age of enlightenment or something [laughs]. It sounds a tad crazy, I know, but I just found myself coming back to these ideas of humanity taking some sort of big leap forward, and the process involved in that."
If not applicable to all mankind, the "big change" theme can at least apply to The Love Language in 2012. Along with exploring more diverse sounds and lyrical ground, McLamb describes the new record as "heavily orchestrated, with strings and horns and bells and whistles" — a far cry from the raw, DIY approach of the first album.
"It's funny, when the first record came out, it kind of got grouped into all that lo-fi stuff that was supposedly hip at the time, but that was not a conscious decision," McLamb says. "The truth was I just didn't know how to place mics [laughs]. I thought it sounded really good until everyone starting saying, 'Um, no.' So, I've never been much of a hip dude. And this might be the most unhip record of the year. We'll see."
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