It’s not exactly a best kept secret that greatest hits packages can be hit or miss, especially for an act that has had no recognizable singles. Lamb, comprised of Louise Rhodes and Andy Barlow, was one of many trip-hop duos born out of the early-‘90s electronica poof (did anyone think it was an actual explosion?), and they pretty much followed the basic trip-hop model: eccentric girl on the mic, press-shy boy on the boards, live—often quirky—instruments atop programmed beats, tons of samples, surface noise, et al. Unlike Portishead—who to this day remain the gold standard—or any number of Bristol copycats, of which there were many, Lamb have been fairly prolific, following the superstar pattern of releasing new material about every two years, so they might just be the one trip-hop act aside from Tricky that’s worthy of a greatest hits album. Granted, it’s not a “greatest hits” exactly, it’s The Best of Lamb 1996-2004. And though it’s arguable whether the songs here are Lamb’s “best” (the quieter moments from their self-titled debut are missing), it certainly makes a case for the band being one of trip-hop’s Best Kept Secrets. Representing 1997’s Lamb is the duo’s first collaboration, “God Bless,” the opening track “Cotton Wool,” which draws on the double-time drum programming and stuttering beats of A Guy Called Gerald, and the dramatic “Gorecki” (inspired by Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony no. 3,” which, oddly, hit the top of the U.K. pop charts in the early 90s), the original beats of which Rhodes allegedly called “pedestrian.” Lamb’s sophomore effort, Fear Of Fours, continued the experimental jazz-tech fusions and tricky time signature of tracks like the waltzy “Gold” with “Little Things” and “B line.” Fear Of Fours was a more hopeful album, with songs like the new age-y “Bonfire” inspired by Shunryu Suzuki, respected Japanese Zen master and progenitor of American Buddhism. Though not as immediate as their first two records, 2001’s What Sound found Rhodes beginning to hone her vocal skills (her eccentric style could grow tiresome—see the cloying “Lullaby”), evidenced here by her pleasantly restrained, though forgettable, performance on “Heaven.” By last year’s Between Darkness & Wonder, Rhodes’ singer-songwriter sensibilities seemed to direct Barlow’s backing tracks rather than the other way around. Barlow’s harsh experimental arrangements have evolved into something more symphonic, chilled-out, and even—dare I say it—pedestrian.
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