Aly Spaltro released Ripely Pine, her debut full-length, under the moniker Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. On After, her sophomore effort, she is Lady Lamb. Diving into After, which is best taken as a whole, it is apparent from the first track that the tightening of her name is just one of many demonstrations of the focus she's gained between releases. Written and arranged on breaks in her last tour, After delivers more succinctly on everything Ripely Pine promised. It plays like a mulligan, a second attempt to capture everything the debut sought. On the strength of Spaltro's confidence, it succeeds.
Teamed once again with co-producer Nadim Issa, Spaltro's distinctive arrangements come in waves that feel less beholden to the tenets of song structure than to her own peculiar instincts. After finds Spaltro in better control of those instincts. As strong as it was, Ripely Pine, in its weakest moments, played like a polished demo. This time around, Spaltro's juxtaposition of brassy outbursts and sunny washes of organ against her own capable guitar work — equally likely to manifest itself as a jagged, toothy crunch or a salt-encrusted surf melody smuggled whole off the boardwalk — sounds more carefully considered.
While her songwriting, obtuse yet evocative, still feels deeply autobiographical, Spaltro has found an effective counterweight in After's exploration of themes of universality, imbuing the album with empathy and balance. It allows her to stake a claim rather than ponder her position. Finding metaphor in the biological is still Spaltro's hallmark, but by dissecting the commonality of experience, in addition to her own past, her songwriting has achieved a deeper level of humanity.
As always, Spaltro proves herself a deft surgeon, peeling just enough flesh away to reveal the vividness of the viscera common to our shared bodily condition, but not so much that she interrupts the display of every heart pumping its blood a little differently. She states her unique position best on "Spat Out Spit," the album's highlight: "We are filled with the gore / From long before / And I'm through starting wars / To make you see me as a warrior."