You may not be able to see the gorgeous landscapes behind Baby Grand, Stuart McLamb's fourth record as The Love Language, but they're so essential to the picture you'll feel them in every note. Yet so much lies in the shadows behind these tracks: other states, other lives, other dreams, other relationships – fogged over, perhaps, but there nonetheless. Yes, Baby Grand has its share of breakup songs – nobody writes those better than McLamb – but this time, even as something is being mourned, something else is being worked through; as lovers have been left behind, so have places and a time in life.
Listen as the heartbreak and yearning of "New Amsterdam" come crashing down into the beautiful stasis of "Southern Doldrums" (the former was inspired by Cyndi Lauper and Joy Division, McLamb claims, while the latter draws upon John Cale's meditative solo records), or as the beautiful lift of the startling sequence of songs that make up Baby Grand's propulsive midsection gives way to a moody instrumental called "Rain/Delay," a collection of distant plinks and plonks struggling to assemble themselves into melody. The song "Juiceboxx" is what you'd get if Mick Jagger crooned his "Emotional Rescue" falsetto over a backing track by the Style Council, and "Let Your Hair Down" impressively suggests what "Caroline, No" might have sounded like if only it had been written by George Michael.
But it's the finale that sends Baby Grand into the stratosphere. McLamb dusts off the '60s throwback sounds of The Love Language's 2009 self-titled debut, which are all over the flat-out-perfect "Independence Day." And he resuscitates those irresistible singalong melodies from 2010's Libraries on "Paraty," the lovely paean to a South American town he never managed to visit. He also slips into the sleek suit of '80s synths that underlay 2013's Ruby Red on "Shared Spaces." "Glassy" culminates the alternately ruminative and riotous record on, fittingly, a note of reflection. You can't leave something behind without starting something new, and the inverse of that proposition is just as true.