From the beginning, Lambchop -- a fluid amalgamation of more musicians than you can count with your fingers (but slightly less if you use your toes) -- has painted its aural canvas with the broadest brush in the Americana can. And with the simultaneous release of its seventh and eighth albums, the Nashville-based band holds true to form, bouncing off orchestral rock, soul, and country bumpers like a musical pinball.
This Use Your Illusion-like excess is the result of group leader Kurt Wagner's effort to write a song a day, and includes an interspersed partial score penned for F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent film Sunrise. The resulting pair of discs is, not surprisingly, often cinematic in effect.
Instrumentals run the gamut of style, from Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra (Aw Cmon's opener "Being Tyler") through '80s Southern pop stalwarts Love Tractor ("Timothy B. Schmidt" and "The Lone Official") to a melody reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's Risky Business soundtrack contribution ("Jan 24"). When Wagner bothers to sing, his bass-baritone range embodies a mannered Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Berlin-era David Bowie, Nashville Skyline Dylan, and the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Wagner's lyrics, meanwhile, address his familiar preoccupations -- relationships gone awry, coffee, the cessation of a smoking habit -- in a fashion more hit-and-run than head-on collision. In "Low Ambition," he takes his bottom-floor vocals ("Think this is fun/When you are one of those awkward strangers/Low is ambition this time") all the way to the basement, and the result could easily coexist on Aimee Mann's Magnolia album: the image of an intelligent but disaffected man, no longer young, walking the nighttime streets of a neon-lit commercial district. Just before the thunderstorm of frogs hits.
The amphibians make their hard landing on "Nothing Adventurous Please," a maelstrom of sound (repeatedly punctuated by a tense and persistent piano chord) that only a supersized orchestra could create. With this two-album platter, Lambchop offers brief, dissonant glimpses into the gray area of American life -- nothing as easily delineated as positive and negative.
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