Even as Portishead remains MIA, the proliferation of copycats continues unabated, with mediocrities like Morcheeba, Moloko, and Hooverphonic garnering the lion’s share of attention. The British duo Lamb, however, is easily the most distinctive and compelling of the lot, breaking new ground instead of merely treading water. In fact, apart from a certain moody Euro feel and the gorgeous, jazz- and folk-inflected vocals of Louise Rhodes, which do recall those of Beth Gibbons, Lamb has very little in common with Portishead at all. The stark soundscapes of Andrew Barlow perfectly accentuate Rhodes’s strengths. There’s a fair share of languid hip-hop beats on the duo’s debut album, Lamb (Mercury), for her to drift over, like on the haunting, minimal “Trans Fatty Acid” and the lush “Gorecki”; and elsewhere the cello-and-voice spareness of “Zero” sounds rather like something by Sinead O’Connor. The most striking material, however, is marked by complex drum ‘n’ bass patterns. Rhodes’s sensuously evocative singing on “Cotton Wool” is one of the album’s highlights, but what makes the tune is the tension between her voice and the sophisticated yet brutal rhythm programs, which rarely repeat. The nonstop shuffle of beats on “Gold” offers a more propulsive framework for Rhodes, while the kaleidoscopic instrumental swirl of “Lusty” seems an ideal companion for her quavery voice. Lamb makes its Chicago debut opening for the Icelandic dance outfit Gus Gus. Tuesday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Lamb photo by Karen Lamond.