Together creating the electronica duo Lamb, Louise Rhodes's folk-inspired vocals contrast with Andy Barlow's electronica expertise, resulting in a sound that is often compared to Portishead, Everything But the Girl, and Sneaker Pimps. Lamb's music contains the blunted beats typical of the trip-hop genre while also touching upon elements of jungle, ambient techno, house, and drum and bass.
Lamb started out in New Zealand in 1994 when a mutual friend suggested to Rhodes that she give Barlow a call. Rhodes was looking for a new collaborator to help her take her folk-song background in a different musical direction. Barlow, meanwhile, had just returned to Manchester from a few years spent in Philadelphia pursuing a career as a sound engineer. Despite their different musical influences, Barlow and Rhodes shared a love of drum-and-bass music and a desire to break away from conventional, commercial house music. The two hit it off over the phone and began writing songs together. "For both of us, our stuff pre-Lamb was very different," Barlow told Sharon O'Connell of New Musical Express, "but as soon as we got together, we both felt like we'd stepped up a division, basically because of the way we bounce off each other. Without actually learning new stuff, we both knew more because we each had to re-evaluate the writing process to cater [to] the other person."
They recorded a three-song demo, and almost immediately, Mercury subsidiary Fontana offered Lamb a record deal. Released by Fontana, the single "Cotton Wool" developed a following throughout clubs in the United Kingdom. DJs played the tuneful drum-and-bass classic to enthusiastic clubgoers who responded to the lyrics-driven vocals and unconventional drumbeats. Well-known remixers Gerald Simpson and Filia Brazillia both contributed remixes of "Cotton Wool." Lamb's second single, "Gold," was also well received.
In 1996 Fontana released Lamb's self-titled debut, a collection of diverse tracks that touch on trip-hop, jazz, and jungle elements. Ken Micallef of RollingStone.com described Lamb's style as "a startling tryst of electronic experimentation and traditional songwriting structure." Barlow produced the entire EP, recording each instrument in the studio and then arranging them in a sampler. In contrast to Barlow's love of electronic experimentation is Rhodes's dedication to more conventional song structure, particularly the lyrics. Sung in a voice consistently described as "haunting," "angelic," and "dramatic," her lyrics often dwell on unconditional love and other uplifting subjects, inspired on one occasion by her pregnancy with her first child. Barlow, on the other hand, produces dark, tense beats. The result is a sound that sets Lamb apart from their contemporaries. "Lamb's music has always been about the yin and the yang, the very calm and the very extreme. You get the harsh sounds and the more edgy rhythms but then the lushness of the strings, the prettier sounds," Barlow told Nick Ferrands in a profile of Lamb located at the Selector website.
Following the release of their first EP, Lamb embarked on an extended tour with additional musicians, including a string quartet, accompanying them in live performances. They quickly developed a cult following and received enthusiastic responses from critics and live audiences alike. The title of their second CD, Fear of Fours, which was named for electronica's typical four beats to a measure, reveals Lamb's desire to resist settling into a formula. "I really like a lot of techno, which is nothing but a lot of fours," Barlow told Mike McCann in an interview for ChartAttack.com, "but there's a lot of bands who seem to have a fear of experimenting with different formats and things."
Fear of Fours displays the same adventurous spirit that led Barlow and Rhodes to combine seemingly contradictory musical styles. However, Rhodes would later describe the EP on Lamb's website as "difficult" and "angular." She and Barlow agree that their sophomore effort was affected by each of them attempting to assert their identity. "I think with our second album we were trying too hard," said Rhodes on the website. "In retrospect, Fear of Fours was quite a tricky album." The tension between their two drastically different approaches was taking its toll on the pair. Barlow was deeply involved in the technical aspects of recording, sampling, and programming, while Rhodes felt that her vocals were being overwhelmed.
Shortly after the tour for Fear of Fours, conflict between the two resulted in Lamb breaking up briefly. The time apart seemed to remind Barlow and Rhodes why they were working together in the first place. "We were fighting a lot and none of it seemed to be worth it. Then, almost as soon as we decided that was it, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted," Barlow explained on the band's website. "That day, when we decided to break it down, was the day Lamb was reborn." They decided to put their differences aside and carry on as Lamb, with more respect for each others' contributions. After a separation of only a few weeks, Lamb began working on a reconciliatory album.
In 2001 Lamb released What Sound, which includes collaborative efforts from such well-known but diverse musicians as Arto Lindsay, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, and Scratch Perverts. Barlow also shared the title of producer with Guy Sigsworth, known for his production work with artists Madonna and Björk. The introduction of these contributors coupled with Lamb's renewed commitment to their music seems to have resulted in some significant mainstream recognition. The soundtrack for HBO's television program Six Feet Under includes a track from What Sound called "Heaven," and in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, actress Nicole Kidman sings a cover of Lamb's "Gorecki."
Although Barlow and Rhodes spend an extensive amount of time together and are known to bicker like a couple, they are not romantically involved. They agreed that their relationship improved after the brief break-up. Rhodes told Noel Dix in an interview located on the Canadian music website Exclaim!: "After the split, coming back together and clearing a lotout of the way in the process, it's like there's so much more crossover in what we do. And so much more respect for what each of us does." Critics seemed to agree that the strengthening of Rhodes and Barlow's partnership is evident in their third album. Sheryl Garratt of the London newspaper the Observer wrote in her review, "What Sound is an album of shimmering, sinewy beauty, with Lou's vocals and Andy's rhythms finally working in harmony, rather than against each other, but both of them still pushing the boundaries, exploring what they can do."
Lamb, Fontana, 1996.
Fear of Fours, Polygram, 1999.
What Sound, Polygram, 2001.
(Contributor) Six Feet Under (soundtrack), Universal, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 1997, p. 117.
Music & Media, November 3, 2001, p. 8.
New Musical Express, March 1997.
Observer (London, England), October 14, 2001, p. 14.
"Lamb," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 25, 2002).
"Lamb," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/default.asp?oid=2462 (April 28, 2002).
"Lamb," Selector, (April 16, 2002).
"Lambuilding on a Club Vibe," dotmusic, (April 16, 2002).
"Lamb Chops into Electronic Sound with Debut Album," Observer Online, (April 16, 2002).
"Lamb Lead The Electronica Flock," ChartAttack.com, http://www.chartattack.com/features/99/lamb/ (April 16, 2002).
"Lambebirth of Cool," Exclaim!, (April 16, 2002).
Lamb Official Website, http://www.lambstar.net (April 16, 2002).
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