Sprain, “The Lamb as Effigy”

Constructed more like an avant-garde score than a traditional rock album, the 97-minute second LP from the LA-based noise-rock group is a complex piece of music-as-art.

Sprain, The Lamb as Effigy

Constructed more like an avant-garde score than a traditional rock album, the 97-minute second LP from the LA-based noise-rock group is a complex piece of music-as-art.

Words: Kurt Orzeck

August 31, 2023

The Lamb as Effigy

Isn’t pop music boring, when you really stop and think about it? Every time, it’s verse chorus verse, blah blah blah, for three and a half minutes. And how about all that foot tapping and singing along we’re supposed to do if we really like a song? What are we, fourth graders? Such insinuations would be rejected as out of hand by the art project known as Sprain, who refuse to capitulate to the audience whatsoever at any point on The Lamb as Effigy or Three Hundred and Fifty XOXOXOS for a Spark Union with My Darling Divine, the full title of their 97-minute, triple-black-diamond of a record.

Constructed more like an avant-garde score for a theatrical production than a traditional rock album, this is a complex, abstract piece of music-as-art. The material isn’t just difficult to access but even to penetrate at all—at least, not at first. After a half-dozen listens, one can begin to find some entry points and comprehend this record. However, if your idea of a good time is racking your brain by reading James Joyce or David Foster Wallace—or if you’re mesmerized by Philip Glass compositions—The Lamb as Effigy may be your bag.

The LA group’s sophomore record kicks off with two songs—“Man Proposes, God Disposes” and “Reiterations”—that burnish the band’s noise-rock credentials with obtuse and out-of-tune distorted instruments, deconstructed song structures, and ample crashings of cymbals and other percussive elements. While those two initial tunes aren’t catchy or hooky, and run about seven minutes each, it only becomes apparent deeper into the listen that those raucous tracks were a mere warmup to what follows. Both tracks (and the penultimate song, “We Think So Ill of You”) are cacophonous exercises that lead into “Privilege of Being,” a song that begins quietly and morphs into another raucous finish.

The next composition, “Margin for Error,” and final track “God, or Whatever You Call It” are each about 25 minutes long—and drive home what The Lamb as Effigy is really about. It’s on those songs that frontperson Alex Kent often takes a back seat with vocals and allows Sprain to soar into mostly instrumental majesty two-thirds of the way through the former track. After a similarly long stretch of feedback and noise at the halfway mark on the latter, Sprain let the last quarter-hour of the record close out with music so minimalistic that it’s almost impossible to hear. It’s a move that only art-school students—as the band most certainly are—would pull off. 

There’s no hand-holding on Sprain’s new record. Try to free-solo this mountain and you’ll find no grips to help. Rather, the listener must let The Lamb as Effigy wash over them—at least if they want to feel what this record is about, much less know. Kent is partial to sprechgesang, which may call to mind Protomartyr or earlier bands like post-rock saints Slint and post-punk purveyors The Fall. While those are all challenging artists in their own right, the comparisons to Spain lose adequacy as the band digs its heels deeper with Lamb as Effigy. In throwing down the gauntlet with this record, they dare the listener to enjoy the ride—or at least stay in their seat. “Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” Kent says at one point on “Reiterations.” No, we most certainly have not.