THE DEAL: Brooklyn group returns with more timeless pop.
THE GOOD: Over its 15-year run, Gary Olson's chamber pop outfit has eschewed the experimental psych pop of its Elephant 6 brethren for the more trad climes of '60s paisley pop. Still dressed in sweeping strings and horn fanfares, Clutching Stems' confections add more obvious '80s mementoes — Smiths melodies and Commotions jangle accentuate Olson's Tim Booth vocals — to the Burt Bacharach and George Martin flavors. It's those ornate touches that afford Ladybug songs their timeless pop feel, like the baritone guitar run on the lament "Fallen And Falling," the toreador horn flair on "Hey, Jack, I'm On Fire," and the mesh of 12-string Rickenbacker, cumulus synth clouds, strings and bass-pulse of album-highlight "Breaking Up on the Beat." It's always been melancholy narrative fare, but the sudden death of drummer San Fadyl in 2007 colors the band's already wistful palette in even more heartbreaking shades.
THE BAD: While hewing to the same essential pop template, each Ladybug Transistor disc tends to blend in different accents to varying degrees of success — 2003's self-titled was recorded in Tucson with Calexico producer Craig Schumacher and tilted wide-open and dusky; 2007's Can't Wait Another Day closed those open spaces with Wall of Sound layers a la label-mates Camera Obscura. As with the new record, recalling such distinctive influences sometimes turns these already ethereal songs into ciphers, and the lack of memorable hooks through some of Clutching Stems heightens that effect.
THE VERDICT: Not its best, but still worth it for fans of dreamy, articulate and intricately arranged pop.