Three years have passed since Ruth Theodore’s second album – and critical breakthrough – White Holes of Mole Hills, and she has followed it up with a set of songs that is even more ambitious. Bravely, she chooses to open Dear Lamp Love Moth with the ten-minute opus Strings. Part meditation, part affirmation, Strings begins with horns and – yep – strings, before jazzy stop-start vocals, delicately percussive acoustic guitar and the occasional yelp all find a niche. It is a song that constantly seems to be heading towards hibernation before kicking itself back into wakefulness at the most unexpected and delightful moments. Structurally, it is not unlike Ys era Joanna Newsom, but there is a decidedly south-of-England feel about Theodore’s delivery.
Starting a record with the most ambitious, longest and most demanding song – rather than hiding it in the skippable depths of the album – is an audacious move, but it works because Strings is quite simply one of the best songs of the year so far, by any artist in any genre. So how does everything else stack up? Well, luckily there is not much of a drop in quality. Archimedes is about as close as Theodore gets to a pop song, but the clever (and oddly catchy) changes of tempo and the chamber-folk elements that have become calling cards are still present.
Theodore’s vocals range from sweet, high trills and the aforementioned Newsom-esque yelps to whispered spells and wordless, wailing incantatory choruses – the latter most evident on the spine-tingling Psychosis And The Willow. Slowdance turns the idea of the love song on its head, and on Algae the simple percussion and guitar are derailed by a jolt of horns.
On the semi-spoken Snakes And Ladders a preoccupation with the passage of time becomes explicit with the accompaniment of ticking percussion. Other lyrical concerns are things half-hidden below surfaces (The Heart and Archimedes both mention the act of burial) and the illness that kept Theodore out of action after her last album. The threat of violence is often present – most notably in Bullfight – and is reflected in the disrupted nature of the songs’ arrangements.
Dear Lamp Love Moth is a cut above most off-kilter chamber-pop records. This fact is evident in the ambition of the compositions, the skill of the musicians – who move between classical, jazz and folk elements with ease – and of course the intelligence of the songwriting. On Pinocchia, one of the strongest and strangest songs here, Theodore muses on the twisting of words, the unreliability of stories, and in doing so touches indirectly on the paradoxical lot of the songwriter – the often unreliable narrator seeking to convey general truths without ever knowing to whom she is speaking. It is a sentiment reflected in the album title, which evokes a misguided and ultimately doomed love letter. But thankfully there is nothing doomed or misguided about the songs Dear Lamp Love Moth.
Review by: Thomas Blake
String (Official Video)
Dear Lamp Love Moth is released on River Rat Records 10th June 2013