Even in the Tremor is a generic sort of disappointment.
Putting “generic” and Lady Lamb in the same zip code once seemed like a laughable offense. Maine guitarist and songwriter Aly Spaltro had a ready-made DIY past (recording demos in a VHS rental store in Brunswick) and a sterling, spiky debut album. Ripely Pine was a ragged, glorious mess of a record, overstuffed with orchestra detours and Spaltro’s warm alto spinning between welcoming and vengeful. After, two years later, was a solid follow up, but Spaltro then took a break outside of a brief EP in 2016.
And the monogenre hungers in the meantime. Spaltro, with Even in the Tremor, has submitted to the light, unfocused sound that homogenizes folk, electronic and indie, a sound that could be politely described as Spotify-core. Much in the same way that Fall Out Boy and Zedd now sound the same in every Lyft ride, a worrying load of indie-adjacent artists have followed Mumford & Sons down a dark, dark path. The humming electronics of Sylvan Esso, the folky plunkings of Peter Oren and a shoestring version of Max Martin’s sleekness. All admirable qualities on their own, but in melding them together, Spaltro ends up with something much less than the sum of its parts.
The weirdness of Even in the Tremor comes from Spaltro’s well-documented stream of consciousness lyrics. Throughout her career, it’s always sounded like a dozen voices have been scratching to get out of her throat. She continues that trend here in both charming and derailing fashions. Spaltro flows through crises of religious fate and a revolving door of lovers, all connected through a tender reflection of childhood. When she recalls picking up an old polaroid of her mother and only seeing herself, the overflow of words works. Elsewhere, she falls into a morass of run-on sentences and a flurry of commas that distract more than enhance.
But it’s the music that seems to be sucked dry of creativity. The bravery, for good and ill, shown in the lyrics has fled on the sonics. The opening half of Even in the Tremor would be completely forgettable outside of a few annoying instrumental choices. The stunningly ill-advised key change in “Deep Love” comes to mind, and so does the sludgy swing of the title track. “July Was Mundane” sticks in the mind, but only for the two sections of lush string sections harshly sandwiched between a drunken stumble of a rhythm that drains all the gravitas out of Spaltro’s words.
The only track that truly shines is “Without a Name,” a gorgeous slice of baroque country, further hinting that Spaltro could go a Margo Price meets Belle and Sebastian route if she chose. Instead, Even in the Tremor languishes in mediocrity and safety. The music is uniformly sleepy, uninspiring, only marked by occasional bursts of infuritation. Nearly every song falls into the memory hole the moment the last note fades. For an artist who once burned down conventions, wrecked her own voice and placed her soul on display, Even in the Tremor is a generic sort of disappointment.