The Ladybug Transistor have been around since the mid-90s, always on the edge of things but never really making a big commercial or critical breakthrough. They tick many of the right boxes, they're from Brooklyn, they were affiliated with the Elephant Six set-up and they have released most of their records on Merge, however their output has been sparse in the last few years and there have been changes within the band.

'Clutching Stems' is their first album since drummer Sam Fadyl died from an asthma attack in 2007, and although they haven't totally transformed their sound, it's evident that this tragic loss has given the album a slightly more reflective feel than the brasher indie-pop of their earlier days.

Whilst the jangling guitars, the three minute indie pop songs and occasional bursts of lush strings and horns are still there, the overall feel is more wistful and melancholic. If anything the arrangements are more minimal than before, the band are stripped back and at times they sound more like a classic indie 4-piece in the mould of the Smiths.

Overall Clutching Stems is certainly a slow burner and it has taken quite a few listens for these songs to make any impact, and I have to admit that on the first few plays a lot of this washed over me.

There is a sadness to this album, a lot of the more memorable songs are about loss, confusion, and transition. The title track is a strong tune that hints at their earlier work, and with lyrics like "it's all coming apart" and "I can't see my friends, and I'm left clutching stems" it sets the tone for the rest of the record.

The initial stand out track is the brief 'Oh Christina' which highlights Olsen's baritone vocal and manages to reference the lyrics of both Joy Division's 'Love will tear us apart' and Neil Young's 'Only love will break your heart' without actually sounding like either - it's their own beautifully sad love song. 'Fallen and Falling' is more of a grower, but it has a delightfully subtle arrangement and lovely interplay between organ and guitar. 'Light on the Narrow Gauge' is worthy of the Go-Betweens, with its poppy melody and the vocals of Frida Eklund contrasting pleasantly with Olsen's deep delivery, but deep down this song is full of regret - "I can't bear to walk that road again." Frida also guests on 'Ignore the Bell' to great effect.

'Caught Don't Walk' is a bit of a departure, it verges on light jazz-rock complete with plaintive horns and gentle acoustic guitar and piano, and whilst 'Hey Jack I'm on Fire' is another big arrangement, it's more uptempo – with horns, harpsichord, recalling the poppy psychedelia of Arthur Lee and Love. I keep thinking about the Go-Betweens when I hear this album though, and the closing track 'Life Less True' reminds of them as well. Perhaps as a reference to what has happened to the band since their last album, it features the refrain "you don't know what I've been through."

At 35 minutes in length, it tends to drift past fairly quickly, and it seems too gentle to really grab you initially, but Clutching Stems has a lot going on when you dig into it a bit deeper.

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