The Ladybug Transistor is the rarest gem in the New York rock landscape. For the past 10 years or so, the band has quietly put out grandiose, layered and perfectly arranged orchestral pop. Mind you, these musicians — attractive, young and talented — have never graced the cover of The Fader, or took part in Fashion Week, or dated celebrities. Sure, they were a part of the whole Elephant 6 thing, if only in name, and they have dabbled in side projects, such as the excellent Essex Green, and you may recognize their tune in a Citibank commercial. But no one stopped the presses.
The Ladybug Transistor, the band’s fourth full-length, will probably not get them the accolades and attention they deserve. It is nevertheless a giant leap forward for the band. Whereas all of Ladybug’s previous records had a home-recorded feel, cultivated in frontman Gary Olson’s Brooklyn-area Marlborough Farms recording studio, The Ladybug Transistor was recorded in Tuscon with Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Giant Sand). This new input is present in every element of the record: the drumbeats are crisper, the vocals are at the forefront, and the band sounds more confident than ever.
In fact, with The Ladybug Transistor, Gary Olson and Co. are starting to sound even more like their friends and contemporaries Belle and Sebastian, but in the good ways. The trumpet comes in at the perfect time on “Hangin’ On the Line,” the keyboards are all over the place, and there’s more vocal gender mix-up. Ladybug vocalist Sasha Bell could out-sing ex-B&S chanteuse Isobell Campbell any day, and she proves it with the stunning album centerpiece “The Places You’ll Call Home.” Olson croons confidently throughout the record, and with “These Days in Flames,” “In December” and “The Last Gent,” he has churned out his finest work to date.
The album includes guest spots from various Merge Records artists, from Paul Niehaus (Lambchop, Calexico) on pedal steel to Dennis Cronin (Lambchop) on trumpet, which only adds to the accomplishment that this album is for the band. They even add a perfect and suitable cover of “Splendor in the Grass” by singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon. This is Ladybug at its most mature; The Ladybug Transistor provides an excellent starting point for new fans to backtrack through the excellent catalogue of one of New York’s finest bands.