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Mancunian downtempo/drum'n'bass duo Lamb were 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 dwelled in brash musical contrasts and, occasionally, contradictions that made 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.