Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lambchop: Mr. M (2012)



To open with a bit of honesty: I'm not altogether familiar with Lambchop outside of their peripheral involvement with other bands and the chapter about them in Our Noise. The only record I've heard by them prior to this one is 1996's How I Quit Smoking. One of the stories that sticks out for me from the book is how cathartically emotional the band's concert appearances are reported to be, especially in Europe where they enjoy considerably more celebration than stateside. Spending time with their new record, Kurt Wagner's hushed and grieving tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt, I can easily understand why so many are reduced to tears when seeing them. But my lack of context prevents this from being a more comprehensive review; I'm inspired certainly to catch up on Lambchop and then one hopes I will be able to speak about Mr. M more articulately. For now: it's involving, lilting, immersive, and it's working for me more than all but a handful of the records released thus far in this dismal year.

Disarming as the profane "If Not I'll Die" is with its dreamy Wizard of Oz strings, it gathers us into the meditative slow burn of the album's particularly strong first half. Songs like "2B2" and "Gone Tomorrow" screw darkly into a moment, minor-key moods with quiet monetum, a sad and spirited reluctance to snap out of it. The latter is particularly beautiful, its gentle shuffling jam slowly building to a stunning slight lift from "Ceremony" at the climax. The theme of obsessively slowed-down dance music happily carries through to the immersive "Mr. Met" with its crawling bass riff, but Wagner and company interestingly seem to lose themselves most of all on a pair of instrumentals. "Gar" is unabashedly sweet with calm piano and Bowie-like harmonies that seems to beg for some oblique entrance to a '70s rock playlist alongside Eno and Rundgren; and "Betty's Overture" is a score without a film, lovably suggestive of Beautiful Music.

Mr. M fades out slowly, harping on the phenomenon of nearly melody-free prettiness on "Nice Without Mercy" and only very occasionally starting to drag. The romantic simplicity is always tempered by sadness, and occasionally the chilly cynicism of something like the catchy manifesto "The Good Life (Is Wasted)." Wagner's vocals weave quietly in and out of band performances that are routinely impressive but seldom call excessive attention unto themselves. Without any setting up whatsoever, you get the sense that this is a band worthy of a particularly fiery sort of passion -- and more of us should be following them.

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