Ladylike’s Debut Album Astounds

Photo By Andrea Calo

Ladylike releases Ladylike: An Aural Odyssey In American Music

Everyone that knows me, knows I like Ladylike, knows that Ladylike is one of my top five favorite bands in the Phoenix scene, knows that I will preach their gospel to anyone that will listen no matter where I go, knows that I truly enjoy everything they are about from their entire catalog of originals to their carefully selected covers in their live show. Though since their inception they’ve only had a three song EP and a recent two song single to help me prove my point, I’m pretty sure their eponymous debut album will shed some light on crazy late night ravings that many have witnessed while I espouse the genius that is Ladylike. I’m confident that this album is everything I’ve been talking about for nearly two years and more.  I’m confident that this debut is as startlingly fresh and original as it is true to its roots, true to the history of the music that influenced it and true to their ethos as a band. Ladylike has evolved in short order and the first full length offspring of this development is, in my mind, nothing short of a masterpiece.

The album Ladylike was largely funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, which made it possible for the entire band to trek to Eudora, Kansas and record it at Blacklodge Recording. It was there in a brief respite from the Phoenix scene that Rob Kroehler, Ryan Casey, Ethan Hills, Alex Tighe and Austin Owen were able to lay down the tracks with help from producer and engineer Nick Day.  The results of that endeavor, along with the flourishes provided by local luminaries Tobie Milford, Danny Torgersen, Steff Koeppen, Chris Leopold and many others, will certainly be appreciated as a sweet reward for the fans that helped send their favorite band to the studio through the highly successful fundraising campaign. The results speak for themselves, throughout all eleven tracks, the proof is in the pudding. Ladylike’s Ladylike is already vying in my mind for album of the year—and if we want to classify that award genre wise, then it may well end up being the greatest pop album of the year.  So let’s talk about the music, the amazing American music that Ladylike has unleashed on this stunning debut.

“Leave The Boy Alone” opens the album joyfully and somehow evokes the entire glam period, and I mean entire, it evokes Mott the Hoople, The Sweet, David Bowie and even 1972 era  Badfinger. There is more than a hint of Queen in here and it’s astounding.” This may be the greatest offering, of love the world has ever known.” This is one of the greatest sing-a-long songs in 30 or 40 years, easily.  “Hold tight easy street, don’t runaway beneath me,” even the lyrics recall that clever time when lyrics were as playful as they were important. There is also a grand sense of the carnivalesque in here, matching the mood, not overdone, with the harmonies of angels. Yet there is nothing contrived here, the sound is pure homage, but nothing unoriginal—they work their own magic on this without sounding anachronistic—it comes across as authentic. “And tonight we’ll do this town to death.” A brilliant transition into the next song on the album, but live, clearly this leads to “All The Young Dudes” and rightfully so. Simply brilliant.

Already one of my favorite songs, “Do It To Death” is the only song reworked from their EP, now with an ELO intro that plays off amazingly. Kroehler’s insistent references to “Crazy Train” denied, this is new music based on the likes of Jeff Lynne, Pete Ham and Big Star. Growling vocal, driving piano, the languid chorus building to harmonies that make your soul sink. This sounds like an immediate hit, the circus sounding interregnum only serves to preserve their acute knowledge of brilliant music and SMiLE era Beach Boys.  In short, on song two, I’m beginning to think this album is the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. This song gives me chills when it occurs to me in the middle of the night when I’m walking around town and it pops in my head, I often think who is that, reviewing my favorite bands for a few seconds before I realize it’s Ladylike. “But oh, the sights and sounds, blurry nights on a hard luck town” and the harmonies that follow kill me ever time.

“Bad In Bed” is the perfect Randy Newman/Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits tune of self-deprecation, and how the song itself turns around, in and on itself and that is the most amazing thing lyrically. Musically it is unlike the previous numbers. Here is a song digging deep into American roots that aren’t often sought these days, something evoking songs that would emerge from New Orleans and the deep South and with that much soul, the addition of woodwinds is a surprise and it delights the senses, this song clearly marks so many influences, but sounds like none of them. The rising strings in the end provide an amazing finale that presents the composition of a song the way it used to be, like each four minute packet of love from your favorite band very nearly had to be a pocket symphony that you could hold in your heart and keep in your mind.

“Youngblood” begins with perhaps the heaviest guitar heretofore, this song smokes and may well be the sexiest number in the entire oeuvre.  It has dark Queen-like backing vocal iterations, “cause the light is on, but the fire is gone”—a simple statement with infinite truth, whether you are someone lost in new love or a later love affair. At this point it appears the record recalls the greatest achievements of the 70s with the vocals, jamming piano, amazing guitar and rhythm work. “Come on youngblood dare the night today” says it all. Amazing.  “Bombproof” is a through and through slice of Americana magic and “let’s eat, drink and be merry”. This is everything Mellencamp and Springsteen tried to say, but it doesn’t take them six albums to say it. This is Gram Parsons and Ryan Adams in the same room at once, this is everything you envision alt. country should be and it’s the strongest “country “vibe on the album, yet it keeps just enough rock and pop influence to warrant the “Americana” label.  The lyrics are a mad pastiche of aphorisms , clichés and thoughts evoking an imaginary era of America, that in all honesty, I’m not sure ever existed, but in everyone’s mind and certainly in the lyrical swirl of this song, the memory, if even mythical, feels very real. 

Photo By Andrea Calo

Because I always think in terms of vinyl, in my mind “Straightjacket Love” is the start of side two, for no other reason than this should be the second  single: this is the ethos and pathos  of the entire band. This is the amazing beginning to new ends.  This is a fan favorite and a single in waiting. “Without your straightjacket love I’d be headed straight to hell.” Again we return to the best of the 70s and this seems to be an important influence point for the band—which isn’t a bad thing, because they assimilate all of that decades best moments and discard the dreck. There is some of the greatest guitar work, at times snarling, at others head bop inducing, hand claps and a fair amount of fuzz. “NaNaNaNaNaNaNaNaNaNa” indeed.  The great thing about this is, I think we have all been there, captured in a love that we are willing to be restrained in, no matter the cost, no matter the restraint, a love that may very nearly destroy us, but it seems so worth it every moment you are in it. It is an epic resolution to follow the heart, regardless of the cost—with some of the cleverest lyrics written in ages, this song amazes continuously both musically and lyrically.

“The Auctioneer” is another perfect slice of American PIE.  This is life at a terminal circus—in a good way. “I was threadbare, I was skinned up knees, by 7th street you were an afterthought to me, I was sunk with both my land legs broke, I was a shipwreck by age 23.” The lyrics are amazing and the music behind it sounds a bit like the Salvation Army band on acid. Recalling, what Elephant 6 did to pop music in the 1990s exposing the sound of horns to the masses for the first time, again. This song explores a sense of the vaudevillian, a sense, once more of the carnivalesque. “Look at you now babe, quite a sight to see.” This would best be done by a happy clown in sad makeup or a sad clown in happy makeup, because the juxtaposition between the jaunty music and the reflective lyrics poses a brilliant sense of discord in the soul that enlightens it to see the circus of your own mind and negotiate your very own terms on which you are participating in the circus of your life.

The first official single from the album was “Cinema Kiss” which is one of the harder rocking number s on the album—and once more it apes all the ferocity of the fiercest  70s power pop.  Whether it is the searing guitar that recalls the Raspberries or Dwight Twilley Band at their best or the call and response vocals in the middle, or the solo piano and vocal bridge—this is music that makes your mind smile and your body dance and there is simply no denying it. I can imagine “I get around it” screamed by thousands of adoring fans during this number. The lyrical imagery is once more visionary, treading territory that may seem familiar, but honestly hasn’t been tread upon before.  “Won’t  put the stay in mistake.” A bit kitschy, but also pretty damn brilliant. Yet another compositional masterpiece and at this point in the album, that is becoming positively overwhelming—how many songs can this band achieve perfection in? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is there is no limit, each song is its own solar system and together, this album is a galaxy unto itself in a universe that is completely Ladylike’s.

Around this time, the album makes me wish more people wrote music and lyrics like this. Ladylike inspires thought and feeling in all directions, they espouse good times in the face of adversity, they take time to mourn loss and enjoy self-reflection, they write how people actually feel and think, not how they think they might—Ladylike is raw poetic honesty and that’s why their music speaks to me, as though they were the soundtrack to my soul, and the chances are, they might be the soundtrack to your soul. “Dead Giveaway”  is, admittedly a darker, starker, more downbeat number than others found on the album and yet it is one of the most touching, filled with a sense of self and loss, filled with more than a bit of melancholy. It is almost a perfect, wistful counterpart to everything else on the album and not an iota less brilliant. It breaks my heart every time I hear it, not because it’s sad, but that it reminds me to be sad for the times when I’ve been less than my best, but it’s not without a sense of wonderful warning to look upon one’s own reflection with the realization that every day is a chance to make you better.

In “Arm Candy” the refrain of “Anything for love” is so tongue in cheek that lyrically it plays with your mind nearly as much as any Randy Newman lyric can do, but the touch of freaking 50s fantastic doo-wop and the voice over (wait is that the sound of a zipper coming down or an exaggerated kiss?) is too much not to make you smile. This song is once again completely brilliant homage to so many eras. Is this the 50s or the point in the 70s that worshipped the 50s. It’s difficult to tell but no less rewarding. “Come out tonight, Oh Candy!” this could fit in either decade. It seems more likely with the “Grease” like riffs and affectations that it is the latter option, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. Here it is, musical acuity acknowledging the love of the 70s love for the 50s—that’s a pretty crazy timeline. Once more the self-deprecating humor is there, but so too is a darkness that never would have shadowed those recordings which adds more to the time of writing and recording. This is those three decades redefined in the new century’s teens, a brilliant translation of our lineage.

Any truly brilliant album often ends on a simply beautiful number and “Only Die Twice”, so brilliantly written, so amazingly formulated from everything these gentlemen have ever loved, is no exception. So the debut album from Ladylike ends on one of their most touching numbers. Don’t think you’ve figured it out, halfway through we return to the carnival for a bit, but mostly this is a joyous, self-reflective number that will raise your spirits no matter what key it is in. It is the perfect finale to what I can only feel is very nearly a perfect album, by anyone’s, who is serious about music, standards. “It’s hanging around emergency rooms when it feels like nothing could be further from the truth,” is a heavy statement followed by serious piano, and what follows is pretty close to the truth for all of us, and if the lyrics don’t touch your soul, the music will. One thing is true on this album, the catchier numbers will haunt your mind forever, but the slower, more self-reflective numbers may haunt your soul just as long.  Lyrically speaking it may be their greatest effort in wisdom and grace. “If there was land inside, then the ship has sunk” pure metaphorical truth. “You got your whole life ahead of you, but darling don’t forget you’ve got the whole thing behind you too” –no metaphor there, just truth. The finale is filled with horns, a chorus of harmonies and the album ends perfectly. There could be no better end and after many listens I’m not sure there could be many better albums.

Ladylike, even though they certainly incorporate sounds from across the pond (Glam era, ELO, Badfinger, etc.) somehow create this very mythic American sense of existence. I’m not sure what accounts for that necessarily—yes, their songs recall a distillation of its best songwriters and notorious ne’er –do-wells such as Jackson Brown, Randy Newman and many more, but they exceed this. The sound, the acoustics, the very universe they create in this album could only be found in America, in its ciities, streets, towns and rural roads. Rob Kroehler has proven himself to be quite the painter and the storyteller at once on this album, far beyond where he dared to tread with the Loveblisters.  He has stepped up and created something truly wonderful and authentically American, something as exuberantly extroverted as it is introspectively self-reflective. He has also managed to find four other talented gentleman that will joyfully join him in this journey of discovery as they reclaim the right to celebrate in America’s music. Luckily, while they’re working so hard, we get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor—it’s great to be an American.

 The Official Ladylike Website