November 9, 2008

Lambchop: "OH (Ohio)"

In a better, happier world, Kurt Wagner's butter-knife baritone that effectively euthanizes each note he sings would sound almost humane, almost genuinely insincere; however, that happens not to be the case, which is a large part of what makes Wagner's vocal delivery so compellingly original and arcanely necessary. It's as if he's saying, in a language unknown to anyone, "we've all got a voice, but only I know how to say what we all ultimately were born to say." Feel that strange resonance with every word he's saying, despite the near impossibility to decipher any rhyme or reason to their particular grouping? That's a glimpse at the intuitive nature of Lambchop's leader and musical accompaniment, and fortunately, it's a talent that spans the group's entire discography, front to back.

Comprising 2008's OH (Ohio) are eleven tracks that find inspiration in bossa beats, easy listening lounge melodies and slowcore americana (which is the most verbose description I could think of in attempts to shatter the group's less-than-magnanimous labeling as an "alt-country" act) that even kinda' rocks, occasionally. Proof of this? Read on...

OH (Ohio) opens up with its title track, in which Kurt Wagner's often-conflicted lounge croon cuts through a finely-crafted country-western samba, reminding us of the truth in that, um, age-old saying "green doesn't matter when you're blue". "Slipped Dissolved and Loosed" sees the Nashville ensemble opting for a folk-tinged acoustic number, delivering Wagner's preeminent melancholy in a slightly different shade of blue, and one much more frail and opaque; it's as if the curtains normally reserving the privacy behind the window of Kurt's heart have been drawn open ever so slightly, revealing just how true and meaningful each word rings.

Other tracks such as "I'm Thinking of a Number" and "National Talk Like a Pirate Day" are solemn reminders that Lambchop's virtuous instrumentation has not all but vanished with '08's OH, combining some lovely, atmospheric guitar swells and near-whisper vocals, as well as sustain-drenched pianos and a very Neil Young-esque rocker in "National Talk Like a Pirate Day". In similar Lambchop fashion, tunes like "A Hold of You" and "Please Rise" remind one of any of the great tracks off 2000's seminal masterpiece Nixon, featuring dynamically-impacting instrumental backings over top of which Wagner's cutting delicacy disseminates brilliantly.

"Close Up and Personal" lassos Randy Newman, Ray Charles and the ghostly presence of Stan Getz into what should sound so much more inspiring than a Norah Jones tune, though sadly does not. "I Believe In You" works to round out the amalgom of influences by offering a slow, bluesy country anthem you somehow just can't imagine your grandparents dancing to, no matter how jukebox-friendly it sounds, which I personally find absolutely charming. What better way to end a creepy, artsy country-ish album featuring a painting of two naked homo sapiens in mid-fondle on the cover?

Lambchop just might be the new masters of unconventionally ambiguous subtlety in modern pop - and/or the very act responsible for the indubitably bloody death of the country western ballad.

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