Ladybug Transistor was originally the project of vocalist
Olson, who employed a revolving cast of musicians (notably Ed Powers) on
Malborough Farms (Park'n'Ride, 1995). Their
surreal pop songs borrowed
from the Byrds' jingle-jangling folk-rock,
the Mamas And Papas' hippie spirit,
Galaxie 500's ambient psychedelia and
the Zombies' pop orchestrations.
The instrumental Lout was a good manifesto per their post-psychedelic
Ditties like Seadrift and 95 Miles Per Hour were carefully
arranged and sung, placing Ladybug Transistor next to Britain's
Belle And Sebastian.
and Colorado's Apples In Stereo.
Song For Vocoder And Trumpet was perhaps the supreme abstraction of their ideas.
Beverley Atonale (Merge, 1997), featuring guitarist Jeff Baron, leaned
towards gentle, peaceful folk-rock (This Order Is Tall, Windy, It Will Be A Lifetime) but adorned with
sumptuous arrangements that evoked the specters of
Brian Wilson (i.e., later Beach Boys)
and Brian Jones (i.e., mid-period Rolling Stones).
Jeff Baron and keyboardist Sasha Bell were also in the Essex Green with Chris Ziter,
that released retro-pop collections such as
Everything Is Green (Kindercore, 1999),
The Long Goodbye (Merge, 2003) and
Cannibal Sea (2006).
On the baroque The Albemarle Sound (Merge, 1999), that also featured
Bell (but lost Ed Powers), the band was still swinging from the
Beach Boys (the heavily arranged ballad Today Knows) to
the Associations (Six Times) to the
Zombies (The Great British Spring)
and the Byrds (Like A Summer Rain), and occasionally experimenting with
textures (the instrumental Cienfuegos, sounding almost like
But the sublime pop bliss of Aleida's Theme,
Oceans In The Hall (one of their peaks) and Meadowport Arch
left no doubt that theirs was no nostalgic tribute and instead a
creative musical effort.
Baron and Bell were becoming the central axis of the band.
The single Brighton Bound (2000)
Confirming that they are one of the most interesting bands to ride the
folk-rock plains in a long time, Ladybug Transistor upped the ante on
Argyle Heir (Merge, 2001)
with some classical sounding pieces
(Catherine Elizabeth, The Reclusive Hero, Perfect For Shuttering)
that sometimes evoke Joe Byrd's United States of America.
The gentle and baroque pop ditties (Fire On the Ocean,
Words Hang In the Air, In a Certain Place, Caton Gardens)
are feathers in the tradition of
Magnetic Fields and
Belle And Sebastian.
But mood pieces like Echoes are more than a melody and a jangle:
they are embedded in a spacey and surreal atmosphere that is closer to
Their sound inhabits a crack between retro-pop and acid-rock. Its extreme
manifestation is the instrumental muzak of
Going Up North (Icicles) and Fjords of Winter.
Keyboardist Sasha Bell and violinist Julia Rydholm are contributing
more than just background noise.
Keyboardist Sasha Bell, that had composed many of Ladybug Transistor's
songs, left the band in 2001 and started
The Finishing School, that released Destination Girl (2003).
The Ladybug Transistor (Merge, 2003) was their most uninspired work.
There was little of substance here, and Gary Olson sounded aloof if not
altogether indifferent to his lyrics. The album seemed to be mostly a vehicle
for one song, These Days in Flames.
Can't Wait Another Day (Merge, 2007), featuring keyboardist
Kyle Forester and guitarist Ben Crum (and greatly downplaying the contribution
of Jeff Baron), did not have a center but fluctuated around an idea of
old-fashioned "middle of the road" pop songs with plenty of keyboards, horns
(Always on the Telephone, I"m Not Mad Enough,
Lord Don't Pass Me By).
Clutching Stems (2011) featured yet another lineup behind frontman
Gary Olson: bassist Julia Rydholm, keyboardist Kyle Forester, guitarists Mark Dzula and Michael O'Neil, and drummer Eric Farber. The sound is probably the
best yet, but the songs are rather disposable.
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