Mancunian duo Lamb have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim with their distinctive, ever-evolving sound which combines passionate, heart-on-sleeve songwriting with unconventional arrangements informed by jazz, drum'n'bass, classical, and other genres.
Lamb dwell in brash musical contrasts and, occasionally, contradictions that make their songs as musically complex and exploratory as they are vocally catchy. The duo's self-titled 1996 debut, an arresting mix of jungle and trip-hop, contained the heartbreaking single "Górecki," a Top 30 U.K. hit which would eventually be featured in several movies and TV shows. The duo pushed their sound further with 1999's Fear of Fours, nodding to their penchant for highly complex time signatures. Expanding their sound to incorporate more live instrumentation, 2001's What Sound contained the haunting ballad "Gabriel," which became a chart-topping hit in Portugal. Following 2003's Between Darkness and Wonder, the duo broke up; singer Lou Rhodes released a series of folk-influenced solo albums, while Andy Barlow produced material for other artists. Lamb returned with the full-length 5 in 2011, and continued touring and releasing studio and concert albums throughout the decade, while additionally pursuing their respective solo outings.
Formed in 1994 by producer Barlow and vocalist Rhodes (the former an in-house engineer for So What management, the latter a daughter of folk singer parents and a budding songstress), Lamb nailed a contract with Mercury subsidiary Fontana almost straight out of the gate. The group's debut, the "Cotton Wool" single showed that field-leaders such as A Guy Called Gerald and Fila Brazillia were on their side (each contributed a remix). But if anything, it was the untouched title track that illustrated Lamb's commitment to keeping the music interesting (the track rows along on a thick double-bass sample and absolutely brutalizing drum sequences) while filling it out with a big dose of tunefulness. An additional single ("Gold") followed, with Lamb's self-titled debut released in September of 1996 to widespread acclaim. Like the previous singles, much of Lamb explores song-oriented deployments of jungle, but the album also adds elements of downtempo and ambient-ish electro-jazz as well. Fourth single "Górecki," which sampled Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, was released in 1997, and became the duo's biggest hit in their home country. The pair also added touring to their repertoire (Lamb's release was followed by a European tour with labelmates Galliano), combining their electronics-heavy productions with live instrumentalists.
Second album Fear of Fours appeared in 1999, and consolidated the band's appeal with forward-thinking electronica listeners. Another inventive record, What Sound, landed in 2001, featuring guest musicians such as Meshell Ndegeocello, Arto Lindsay, and Michael Franti. The album did extraordinarily well in Portugal, where it was certified double platinum on the strength of the number one single "Gabriel." Between Darkness and Wonder followed in 2003, and one year later, Barlow helmed a volume in the chillout mixtape series Back to Mine.
Following the release of the compilation Best Kept Secrets: The Best of Lamb 1996–2004, the duo performed what was billed as their final concert in September of 2004. Rhodes began recording a solo album, Beloved One. It was released in 2006, earning a nomination for the Mercury Prize, and was followed by Bloom in 2008 and One Good Thing in 2010. Barlow spent time producing, and also recorded material that eventually ended up on an album, 2011's Leap and the Net Will Appear, released under the project name LOWB.
The duo reunited in 2009 for The Big Chill Festival, and played a few other dates over the next year. They also began recording material, and released 5, their first album in eight years, in May 2011 on their own label (through Strata Music). Surprisingly, it found their intuitive balance of songwriting and challenging production virtually unchanged, and reviews were positive. A concert album, Live at Koko, followed in 2011, and their sixth album, Backspace Unwind, appeared in October 2014 (also on Strata). In late 2017, Lamb toured Europe in celebration of the 21st anniversary of their debut full-length; the tour produced the concert recording Live at Manchester Cathedral. The duo's seventh studio album, The Secret of Letting Go, appeared in 2019. ~ Sean Cooper & Paul Simpson, Rovi