Lamb

Between Darkness and Wonder (Koch)

It might seem that downtempo's nascent era is far removed, as many of its famed alumni, including Massive Attack, Portishead, and Morcheeba, have either disappeared or regressed. Unfortunately for Lamb, the latter has become apparent. Through the late '90s glory days, the duo of Andy Barlow and Louise Robinson stood out from the genre's paradigm. Their first two records, with instant classics like "Gorecki" and "All in Your Hands," showcased sonic mastery and haunting vocals with a mysterious, bass-heavy backbone that gave us a group capable of beautifying chaos. Somehow, much of the spark's gone AWOL for the last two albums, especially this, their latest.

The first two tracks, including the ambient arrhythmic opener "Darkness," lead one to believe that Lamb has reignited its risky side. Then, sadly, we discover that we've been misled, as most of the record comes off as retreads of Fear of Fours or the thin balladry of the last (albeit better) record, What Sound. There are no instant classics on this record because we've heard all this before. Only the opening cuts and the last few tracks, including the effortless acoustic-breakbeat bounce of "Open Up," serve as solid bookends to an unfair middle section that can't maintain the standard Lamb set years ago. It's not that this is a terrible record by any means, just another worrisome sign that one of trip-hop's most daring groups is afraid of its own shadow.

 
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