Lambs & Wolves – The Devil In The Orchard: Album Review

Extraordinary, intimate and intriguing.  Just a few words that describe the new album from indie-folkers Lambs & Wolves

Release Date:  31st March 2023

Label: Self release

Formats: Vinyl, Digital

lambs wolves

Before I’d heard a note of the fare that Lambs & Wolves have on offer, I took the time to check them out on Bandcamp.  “Charming German indie-pop with the keen melodic sensibilities and melancholic undercurrent of some of the style’s best practitioners” was how their music describes and, as it turns out, that description isn’t a bad starter-for-ten.

Odds are that Lambs & Wolves is new name to you, as, indeed, they were to me.  At their core, Lambs & Wolves are a three-piece band whose members hail, variously, from Stuttgart, Freiburg and Vienna.  Julian Tröndle is the band’s principal composer and lead vocalist; he also plays harmonica, and the piano which takes the lead instrumental role in most of the songs.  The band’s sound is filled out by Louis Groß, who plays acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel, banjo, ukelele and mandolin, and Stefan “Joe” Bercher who adds more acoustic guitar and backing vocals.  Jamie DW Craig mans the drumstool when the band play live, and, here he’s also present on percussion and backing vocals.  It might sound a bit sparse, but it isn’t; the band’s sound is lush and pastoral and, on The Devil in the Orchard, that lushness is further secured by the services of a host of friends and guests, most notably Simon Kerler and Benedikt Weiger, who contribute – respectively – drums and bass throughout the album, and a bunch of pals from fellow German folk experimentalists Catastrophe Waitress.

The Devil In The Orchard is Lambs & Wolves’ second album, and follows hot on the heels of their acclaimed 2021 offering, Not a Party at All.  Julian was inspired to write the songs after listening to the work of songwriter David Benman, along with other members of the coterie that Julian describes as “…the other ingenious outsiders of US folk.”  Ghosts, weather phenomena and other elements of nature all provide subject matter to Julian’s songs, but, really, it’s when those ideas and inspirations are put to music and subjected to the mercies of the various musicians and producers that things get especially interesting…

The music of Lambs & Wolves has been compared to the output of US bands like Silver Jews and Big Thief, and even to the early efforts of Bright Eyes and Mercury Rev.  Those comparisons may or may not be valid.  My own impression is of a sound that is just about unique.  The songs are highly tuneful and eminently listenable; the intimacy is startling and the vulnerability in Julian’s voice is palpable.  The instrumentation is accomplished and subtle; the guitars, banjo, mandolin and, on extra-special occasions, trombone and clarinet that add the colouring to Julian’s piano are discrete yet effective and the harmony vocals – mainly provided by Catastrophe Waitress’s Magdalena Belm – add just the right level of sweetening.  It all adds up to a set of songs that are uniformly intimate, intriguing and irresistable.  The Devil in the Orchard is an extraordinary album that is certain to reward deep, concentrated listening.

Nici Feßler, another of the Catastrophe Waitress crew, chips in with violin on the album’s title track – presented here in two formats: a rich, full version and a reprise that is somewhat starker and more direct in its impact.  Ethereal and intimate, it’s a song that captures the flavour of the album perfectly.  Nici stays aboard for Mother, one of Julian’s intimate piano ballads.  Slow and ponderous, with some tasty guitar fills, it reaches its climax with a dreamy piano coda.

The bright, poppy, More Clouds is altogether more upbeat – in fact, it almost qualifies as a country rock excursion.  The tune sounds particularly refreshing and sprightly after the introspection of the album’s opening tracks and it only slows down for the “Where the lioness sleeps tonight” refrain.  Another guest, Johanna Lauppe, adds touches of trombone and Louis’s lap steel licks during the outro round the whole thing off.  A pleasant, jangly, interlude.

The middle of the album is the place where things get particularly interesting and the run of four tracks, Blue Tales, Suzanne, Saltwater and Ghost Fingers represent, at least to me, the beating heart of the whole affair.  Introduced by some lovely tinkles from Louis’s banjo and a stop/start piano lick from Julian, Blue Tales Blue Tales is almost funky – albeit probably the softest expression of funk that you’re ever likely to hear.  There’s more of that exquisite lap steel, and the backing vocals from Magdalena and Lisa Schneider are, arguably, the best on the album. 

Things get bluesy and (relatively) heavy for Suzanne, another of the poppier songs in the collection.  The intimacy of Julian’s voice and his piano accompaniment is offset by the occasional crashing guitar chord, and Louis’s banjo coda tops things off very nicely.  Saltwater is another favourite, and I particularly love Anne Köster’s clarinet solo that gives true emphasis to the pastoral feel of the song.  The fingerpicked acoustic guitar and the double-tracked lead vocal create a texture that, somehow, reminds me of Pink Floyd performing a song like Grantchester Meadows.

The intimacy of Julian’s vocal is, perhaps, most pronounced on Ghost’s Fingers, the fourth and final song in that run of mid-album excellency.  It’s another encapsulating tune, with fingerpicked guitar providing a counterpoint to Julian’s wistful piano.  The song’s “haunting noise experiments” are given a special mention in the album’s press release and, maybe surprisingly, those “experiments” – mainly lashes of effects-laden guitar – add intensity to the song without causing distraction.

Johanna’s back with her trombone, to add a special “something” to the tender Laura Nyro-ish Carry It All, before the band get as poppy as they’ve probably ever been with the album’s token earworm, Taming Of The Shrew.  It’s a tune that reminds me – ever so slightly – of Love Is All Around, and the band do it full justice.  Guitars, bass and drums sit comfortably behind Julian’s piano, and harmonica and mandolin both add nice touches.  It’s almost pop, but with a special aura that’s unique to Lambs & Wolves.

The Devil In The Orchard is a lovely album, packed with engaging tunes and fine musicianship, delivered in a way that oozes intimacy and vulnerability.  If you’re on the lookout for something different – something that will keep you company in those lonely days of what’s left of winter – then The Devil In The Orchard might just be the answer to your prayers.

Watch the lyric video to Ghost’s Fingers – one of the album’s several outstanding tracks – here:

Lambs & Wolves online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube

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