Mancunian downtempo and drum'n'bass duo Lamb earned notice as one of the first groups to add a lyrics-based vocalist to steadfastly jungle-based productions. Unlike other vocal-based groups (such as Everything But the Girl and the Sneaker Pimps) who dabbled in rolling breaks as a quiet accompaniment to a clearly dominant vocal lead, Lamb dwell in brash musical contrasts and, occasionally, contradictions that make their songs as musically complex and exploratory as they are vocally catchy. Formed in 1994 by producer Andrew Barlow and vocalist Louise 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 calling card, the "Cotton Wool" single, already showed field-leaders such as Gerald Simpson 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 the fall 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. Rhodes went on to lend her vocals to Sheffield legends 808 State's Don Solaris LP (on the track "Azura"), and the success of Lamb's debut also brought a fair amount of remix work their way. 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, although American audiences were forced to wait two years to hear it in a quietly released version on Koch. Between Darkness and Wonder followed in 2003, and one year later Barlow helmed a volume in the chillout mixtape series Back to Mine.
Lamb appeared to be winding down during the early 2000s, and in 2004 issued a compilation, Best Kept Secrets: The Best of Lamb 1996–2004. 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 via Strata). ~ Sean Cooper