Album Review: Sprain – The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine

5/5

After breaking out into the scene with a self-titled slowcore EP that plucked on heartstrings with its solemn soundscapes in 2018, Los Angeles band Sprain gained the attention of cult experimental record label The Flenser. After signing in 2019, the band moved forward and released their first full-length, As Lost Through Collision, in 2020. This record saw a huge departure for them: shearing off the soft, fuzzy coat and instead trading it for the boisterous and surgically precise sound of ’90’s noise rock.

Over the past couple of years I have been eagerly awaiting the follow up to that record, and what came next was something that truly shocked, riveted, and impressed me far beyond what I thought could be possible.

There are albums out there that are interesting, albums that are long, albums that are fantastic, and albums that are innovative. It is very rare, however, that we get an album that ends up being all four. Enter The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine by Sprain. This record is all four of those qualifiers and then some. It is intelligent, complicated, and all-encompassing for the limits and expansions of “noise rock” music.

I will be honest and say that I have been listening to this album now for two months. Fairly regular doses and analyses, and even now I am finding it difficult to find the proper language to communicate the breadth of this record. It sprawls and stretches out as far as seemingly possible and even extends a little further past there. There are multiple jaw-dropping performance moments that are juxtaposed with downright unpleasant counterparts.

The Lamb As Effigy… is not a record for the faint of heart. In vocal range, in structure and genre-generated sensibility, tonal range, and cumulative performance, it flies all over the chart without any restriction or hesitation, just tension. The listening experience is methodically jagged, frequently anxiety-inducing, but tied together in a way that is blissfully and undeniably intentional. No matter what expectation you have, the album doesn’t fulfill what you’re looking for, but simultaneously achieves more than you could dream of. It is nonlinear exploration of grief, anxiety, and philosophy through the scope of love, sex, and uncomfortable physicality.

It utilizes an amount of instrumentation (the bulk of which is performed by lead vocalist and guitarist Alexander Kent) that could rival a symphony orchestra, but the artists behind the conducting have a seemingly scientific knowledge of how to arrange them in a way that serves the music in the most tasteful (or distasteful, depending on the song) way it can. This record feels more like a focus group of composers dissecting and inverting tropes of noise rock, neoclassical music, and minimalist values to create something mesmerizing, haunting, and masterful.

At times, it hearkens to performances and experimentations of many influential artists over the past several decades. Sometimes it’s Meredith Monk (certain progressions remind me of “Ledge Dance”), others it’s Philip Glass (moments of “Dance 1” from Einstein on the Beach, some more from different parts of Koyaanisqatsi), and others it’s Iannis Xenakis (many instances of Pithoprakta and Metastasis, particularly during long building sections of ambience and noise elements).

At their core, you have Alexander Kent on guitar and vocals, April Gerloff on bass, Sylvie Simmons on guitar, and newcomer Clint Dodson on percussion. These four people have achieved something incredible. Sprain have painstakingly crafted this monstrous release to the point of near-self-destruction. It is not a casual listen, nor is it an easily digestible one, but rather one that attempts multiple times to make you regurgitate its information with harsh tones and punishing dynamics. A display of shame and misery that deserves a trophy, holding you hostage for over 96 minutes. Their record label stated it best on Twitter the other day: “the patient listener will be rewarded.”

Overall, The Lamb As Effigy… is a modern music definer. It is an album that will redefine generations after it. Part of that certainty is that, if this record had been done by any other people with any other amount of sincerity, it would have failed. This a record beyond recognition, and music beyond limitations. A true example of attempting definition of avant-garde with questions, experiments, and redirections of the listener. It will invest in you what you invest in it, and for that alone it provides.

The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine by Sprain is out NOW on The Flenser and can be ordered here. You may watch the video for “Privilege of Being” below, but I strongly urge you to carve out time to sit with the full record. It will challenge you, but it will give you so much more than you bargain for in return.

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