They adhere closely to what the band’s press dubs “formalist” structures, which is to say that the verse/chorus/verse format isn’t just used, but praised. The songs aren’t gimmicky, nor are they hip. They’re just really solid, enjoyable tunes.
In that way, they’re pretty much the quintessential Merge band at the moment: Been around since the ’90s without a real breakup, putting out music that stands the test of time, and doing their thing without a care for what everyone else is doing.
Comparing “Clutching Stems” to The Beatles, Paul Simon and even The Eagles isn’t wrong (although The Ladybug Transistor doesn’t trump up the rock aspects of its sound). But where each of those has its own specific time and place, this collection of tunes lacks a tether to any certain era.
Despite this unmoored, free-of-context feeling, the songs remain grounded and relatable. The beautiful, keys-driven title track sets the stage for the whole album, as Gary Olson’s pleasant baritone fits easily over the perky (but not precocious) song.
“Oh Cristina” takes a break from mid-tempo pop tunes to introduce some found sound over a chilled-out acoustic track. The bulk of the song, however, jumps back up to walking pace. If there’s one argument that resists parrying about “Clutching Stems,” it’s that many of these tracks can mesh together in the brain due to similarities in tempo, instrumentation and tone.
Lovers of perfect pop songs will be enamored with The Ladybug Transistor’s latest. It may get a bit tiring for those who aren’t fans of Belle and Sebastian, Fountains of Wayne (minus “Stacy’s Mom”) and Sondre Lerche. —Stephen Carradini